Thursday, October 16, 2008

"to the witch's castle"

Mark K-Punk is a kind of prophet of dystopian neoliberalism; an anti-Thatcher. In this society everyone inevitably breathed in Thatcherism, ate Thatcherism and drunk in Thatcherism. Seriously, it would be good for a lot of people whose premises really are in line with neoliberalism to follow the yellow brick road of neoliberal theory direct to the witch's castle. In this respect I find Mark K-Punk's work commendable.

Suppose the free market did pertain. Given the normal functioning of the free market the zone of proximal development of the individual will coincide with that of the media, hence:

"What we're seeing is not the collapse of capitalism, but the disintegration of the illusion that capitalism is about the untrammeled free market. The developments over the last few weeks only underscore Alex Williams's point that the State, far from being exterior to capital, is a "vital element of stabilisation" which prevents capitalism from accelerating to the point of self-destruction.

Which isn't to say that nothing is happening. It could well turn out, as Larry Elliott argues, that this is a sea change moment. "For Middle Britain," Elliott claims, "the traders who bragged about their £1,000 bottles of Krug have now become as loathed as the bolshie shop stewards of the 1970s." New political movements require a shared object of loathing, the emergence of which indicates a symbolic shift at the level of the political unconscious. The uneasy dreamwork alliance of neoliberalism and neoconservatism has depended on a shared object of revulsion: the nonproductive outsider, the asylum seeker/ welfare recipient. Could a new settlement emerge organised around the symbolic abjection of the figure of the profligate trader?"

Unfortunately I think the profligate trader is to modern capitalism what the drunken, lecherous Friar was to the Catholic Church in the late middle ages. Anyway, let's look at Larry Elliott's comment:

"For Middle Britain, the traders who bragged about their £1,000 bottles of Krug have now become as loathed as the bolshie shop stewards of the 1970s."

I think people like David Harvey underestimate the extent to which neoliberalism is a genuinely popular phenomenon at least in Britain and the US. Harvey rightly points out the dissonance between neoliberalism as a theory of society and guide for government policy (Samuelson, Friedman and Friedman, Hayek et al) and neoliberalisation: the actual policies pursued that followed a distinct yet coherent logic. Harvey neglects to look at the the way both the theory and practice of neoliberalism are supported by the popular culture of the modern salariat, which could reasonably considered outside the scope of his book*. We've certainly looked at this before: the way the contemporary salaryman or salarywoman has an interest in developing a worldview that's coherent with respect to the prosaic details of work and consumption and hazy with respect to the overall development of society. Baroness Thatcher liked to imagine society as a series of Family Businesses, multiplied or arrayed, laid out in grid form like the pictures on sheet acid. This is the basis for various illusions about the "free market" functioning universally etc.

These are fine things for the Family Grocer to believe in around 1930 but their continuation and their spread today depend on other structural factors. A lot of ready made ideas evidently come through the media. Now, there are two sorts of limiting factors on the content of media discourse: those that relate to the maximisation of profit and those that do not. Broadly speaking there is economic censorship and political censorship.

The popular form of neoliberalism, the heir to traditional petit-bourgeois culture, has always included a theory of monopoly and a revulsion against it. Super profits, market failure and exploitation are associated together as aspects of monopolisation. The academic form of neoliberalism has, over several years, made various attempts to declare monopolies either non existant or benign. Hence, one can see in the way popular culture becomes aligned over the issue of monopolies the relative effects of the two forms of censorship, where they find themselves in contention.

This has become rather convoluted. What I find unconvincing about Larry Elliot's analysis is that what he designates as a new phenomenon is just the old monopoly theory, which hasn't gone away. Which is to say we're still in the suburbs of neoliberalism.

*David Harvey A Brief History of Neoliberalism


Le Colonel Chabert said...

On cue, the Profligate Trader comes onstage, quietens the applause by patting the air and addresses his audience:

catmint said...

It's funny what really sickens people in a situation that's bad from many angles. The hideous nature of the ruling elite was bad enough - but the prejudices against hemp! That really rankles!