Friday, April 16, 2010

Back to the 70s? If only..............


This blog post also appears at the New Statesman.

Is Britain heading back to the toxic mix of politics and business seen in the 1970s?, asks Kamal Ahmed in the Daily Telegraph.


Not since the 1970s has there been such an "anti-business" mood in politics and among the general public. This is the first election since that blighted decade when talk of "fat cats" and "taxing wealth" are legitimate election issues. Some might say "What do you expect?", but I think we may come to regret an over-correction following the events of the autumn of 2008.

If only it was true that Britain was heading back to the 1970s!

If Ahmed was right, we’d expect to see at least one of our main parties advocate the extension of public ownership. Instead all three promise even more privatisation. We'd also expect to see calls for new Wealth Tax and for the top rate of tax to be far more than 50%.

Far from being a ‘blighted’ decade, the 70s marked the zenith of progressive politics, as I argued here.

Not only that but the decade gave us the best television comedies (think Dad’s Army, Fawlty Towers, The Good Life, Rising Damp and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin), the best tv drama (think Upstairs Downstairs, The Onedin Line, When the Boat Comes In, and Lillie), and the best football, (think Brazil in the 1970 World Cup, Holland in 1974 and Argentina in 1978).

It was a great decade and we even had the heroics of Red Rum too.

But neoliberals like Kamal Ahmed hate the 1970s because capital was not in complete control. Half the world had ditched capitalism all together, while most countries outside of the communist bloc operated a truly mixed economy, where the interests of ordinary people came before the interests of multinationals and Goldman Sachs.

The task facing true progressives today is not to turn the clock further forward, but to turn it back- to a decade when things were immeasurably better for the majority of people on the planet than they are today.

12 comments:

vladimir gagic said...

I wish there was that sort of economic populism here in America. Instead, we have the tea party movement. Poor people who seem to believe unfettered free markets will make them prosperous, and that all public services are socialism. I guess neoliberal brain washing has achieved quite a feat in making the underclass believe their interests lie in rabid capitalism. In America, if you take from the poor to give to the rich, as in the bank bailout, that is capitalism, and any anything else is Marxism. And the American underclass seem to be perfectly fine with that.

Mr. Piccolo said...

"Some might say "What do you expect?""

Gee, you think? I mean, we only have just about the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the fact that governments have bailed out ultra-rich bankers and are talking about brutal austerity for regular people. And Ahmed is worried about an overreaction against the rich and powerful?

Articles like Ahmed's just remind me that, despite all the happy talk about democracy and freedom, neoliberals would probably be happier if most people weren't allow to vote or have any real political power at all.

I think this tendency has been showing its face more and more since the start of the downturn. When times are good (i.e., before the various bubbles burst) neoliberal commentators are all aflutter with stories about day-trading grandmothers and such, showing how the “little people” can be empowered by capitalism.

Then when the bubbles burst, they all of a sudden become Social Darwinists again, arguing that we cannot question the rich and powerful because they all deserve what they have and are basically a class of demigods. The little people who lost their shirts in the market are no longer populist heroes but idiots who deserve their fate for venturing into the Land of the Giants.

On another note, I can definitely understand the nostalgia for the '70s that some people have today. Besides the different political climate, it seemed like people enjoyed life more in that decade. Last week my grandmother was telling me about how my aunts and uncles would spend a lot of time with their cousins going dancing on the weekend, while the older folks would play cards or go bowling. How many people today even see their cousins and other extended family members much anymore?

Anonymous said...

Of course Kamal Ahmed was the errand boy for Alistair Campbell during the run-up to the Iraq war. He has blood on his hands.

neil craig said...

The 1970s was also the era of Limits to Growth, funded by the plutocrats of the Club of Rome to tell us we had to expect poverty, billions dying of starvation, an anthropogenic ice age, eveybody dying of pollution caused cancer, nuclear power stations meling throught the Earth's core all the way to China, running out of oil, death of most animal species 7 all sea life if we didn't abandon all hope & return to the Middle Ages. This was the era when cheap nuclear electricity was made illegal & we gave up space travel. It was also, not coincidentally, when government got into its present nanny state stride & the regulatory side of government started growing. Not coincidentally it was the time when the post WW2 economic boom ended.

Though you are right that there were state owned industries then the private sector wasn't smaller. Now the state sector makes up 53% of the economy - the only difference is that none of it is productive. All this miserablism started its rise to prominence in the 70s. It was even the age of punk.

Generally it set us up for the present.

If we exclude the incomparable Pythons I wouldn't even agree about it being the high point of comedy - the 60s were as good. It was simply the last time British broadcast comedy wasn't verbotten unless it had been approved by the humourless political correctnes police.

Nicholas said...

Greater equality (in the 70s) meant for deeper social cohesion but it was already fraying as financial regulation was dismantled and the Americans effectively defaulted by abandonning gold in order to pay for the Vietnam war...

Though I am not sure 'half the world' had rejected 'capitalism' since under Communism, nobody had much of a say one way or the other!

jack said...

We also cut NASA spending in the 70's.

Personally I don't by into the whole left wing/right wing political BS.

John Pilger or Noam Chomsky do not say anything of worth.

Pilger in some instances is a propaganda outlet for Soros foreign projects.

@Nicholas

Communism was the west best friend (the Bolshevik revolution financed by the wealthiest bankers in the world) as it eliminated any effective real market competition and was used as an excuse for foreign military intervention (not that it seems to matter now).

Neil Clark said...

vladimir- yes, the tea party movement is depressing and shows the success of neoliberal brainwashing.
Mr Piccolo- great post.
re quality of life in the pre neo-liberal 1970s, here's a couple of other pieces of mine you might find interesting:
http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/5359,news-comment,news-politics,the-summer-of-76-when-life-was-good

http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/47328,news-comment,news-politics,dont-believe-the-myth-margaret-thatcher-ruined-egalitarian-1970s-britain

nicholas- thanks for your post. Yes, it may have been fraying, but i don't think there was anything inevitable about Thatcherism in the UK. Had Jim Callaghan called that election in Sept 1978.....


Hi Neil-interesting points but not sure I agree entirely with your view of the 70s. Perhaps Robin C or olching have something to say on the phenomenon of 70s punk?

Jack- thanks for post, but I'm afraid don't agree with you on John P and Chomsky, or on communism being the west's best friend. If that was true, why did the west spend so much time and money on trying to undermine/topple the communist regimes? Why the military intervention after the Revolution?

Mr. Piccolo said...

@Mr. Clark,

Thank you for those articles, they were very good.

@Mr. Gagic,

I agree with you somewhat, but polling data seems to suggest that Tea Partiers tend to be more educated and wealthier than your average American. The problem in the U.S. (maybe elsewhere, I don't know) is that we now use cultural issues to define who is on the Left and who is on the Right.

A lot of American progressives are so wrapped up in a cultural definition of the Left that they are shocked when they hear that the Tea Partiers often don't fit their stereotype of poor, uneducated rednecks. This is a symptom of the contemporary Democratic Party being defined by middle-class cultural issues instead of economics.

The United States needs a frank discussion of economics and class, but this is an extremely taboo subject for a number of reasons having to do with our peculiar history.

vladimir gagic said...

If i could just that I am a bankruptcy lawyer in Arizona, and the neoliberal, pro-business attitude is very common even among underclass consumers filing bankruptcy. By far most of the debt is typical consumer debt for things like medical bills, housing, and food. From what I've seen, no one has suffered more from neoliberalism than the disappearing American middle class. I was just in Serbia visiting family and they seemed happier than Americans struggling go get by with an average life.

Mr. Piccolo said...

@Mr. Gagic,

True. A lot of polls are inaccurate. I was probably too sanguine about the new polls that came out about the Tea Party. As you say, the attachment of average and poor Americans to neoliberal ideology is very interesting and aggravating at the same time.

In my own neighborhood most of the people work for the local municipality as police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, teachers, etc., lots of union members, so not exactly the type of people that should be supportive of neoliberalism, but it is a very conservative area.

I think religion (strong Roman Catholic) and race (white ethnics) has something to do with the attitudes of some of these folks, whose parents and grandparents, interestingly enough, were probably strong New Deal voters. I think there is a sense among many people that the Left is all about hating religion and white people, so they vote for the Right because they perceive that the Right represents their most deeply-held values.


P.S. I really appreciate the interesting comments, Mr. Gagic, you have made me think a lot, and I appreciate your perspective. Perhaps people in Serbia understand something about life that we Americans often fail to perceive?

vladimir gagic said...

Mr. Piccolo: thank you for you kind comments. It's nice to know there are other American citizens who are not republicans or new democrats. I gather from your comments that you live in the NE United States? In contrast to the rust belt, Arizona is very, very anti-Labor and is radically conservative.

As far as Serbia goes, most Serbs are not materially better off than most Americans; it's just that Serbs place more value on social and community activities, simple things that the "free market" can't put a price on. In contrast, the American narcissistic consumer lifestyle is alienating and dehumanizing. It explains why the typical American has more therapists than friends. Serbs may have fewer material items than the typical American, but Serbs live longer, work less, and have much less debt, even in spite of the "evils" of Milosevic. Even worse, Americans on Indian Reservations and inner cities are essentially living in a third world country. Their life expectancy is the same as in West African countries.

Finally, without being too fawning, I would just like to add that this blog has opened up my eyes to the evils of neoliberalism. Before I found this blog, I hadn't even seen the word "neoliberal". Originally, I read this blog because Mr. Clark was the only Anglo-American commentator who wasn't a Serbophobe. And, at that time I had considered myself the typical socially liberal but fiscally conservative democratic. Now after exposure to this blog and other old fashioned liberals, like David Harvey and James Galbraith, I finally have seen the light.

Mr. Piccolo said...

@Mr. Gagic,

Thanks for the compliments! I live in Chicago, so I guess you can say that is part of the Rust Belt. Unions still have something of a presence here, which is nice. Arizona is a lovely place, but I understand what you mean about that state being anti-labor, I think the same applies to much of the Sunbelt.

Thank you for the analysis of life in America vs. Serbia. I think this economic crisis will be very tough on Americans, because we define our self-worth by our consumption, i.e. what cars we drive, what kind of house we live in, what kind of home entertainment system we have, etc.

Mr. Clark's blog is great, I agree. I actually used to be a Bush Republican! I even voted for George W. Bush! But the Iraq War and the impact of globalization on jobs here in the U.S. started to make me think, and now I am something of an economic Lefty. In addition to blogs like Mr. Clark's I have also been reading G.D.H. Cole and R.H. Tawney. So many great British minds!

James Galbraith is good too, very interesting perspectives on things. I especially like his critique of the role of neoclassical economics in academia. Another economist who is similar to Galbraith in that respect is Charles M.A. Clark from St. John's University in New York City, although Prof. Clark often writes from a Roman Catholic perspective. I am not too familiar with David Harvey, I should look him up.