Dead Right by Richard Denniss

Dead Right

How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next.

Richard Denniss should be read by everyone who wants a straight forward understanding of “the economy” and the politics that determine economic direction. I read his earlier book Econobabble two years ago, and when writing about it on this blog I started my post with: “I wish everyone could and would read this book. It cuts right through the economic spin at the heart of all of the political dogma we’re subjected to every day.”

I make the same recommendation for Dead Right.

This book (actually a long essay) takes a common sense look at the way “neoliberalism” in its opposition to government and taxation “is in reality a war on democracy”.

He writes ” You can’t have democracy without politicians. You can’t do the things the public wants without a government bureaucracy. And you can’t fund those policies without tax revenue.”

Since the 1980s neoliberalism has become the dominant ideology directing western politics. Introduced during the hyper-conservative Reagan and Thatcher years, it even affected (infected?) the policies of the nominally left-wing Australian Labor government of the time.

Governments cut tax rates and divested themselves of public services and assets, claiming that the private sector could run services more efficiently and cost effectively. It’s a practice that has returned to bite the Australian public on multiple occasions, including the exponential rise of power prices, as profit rather than service was always the inevitable outcome of privatising essential services. But blame for the cause of the rise of prices is redirected:

…while the outsize profits are of no concern to neoliberals, the smallest hint of wage growth leads to demands that wages be kept low lest they drive prices up, unemployment down and render us “uncompetitive.” Apparently when worker’s incomes rise, it comes at the expense of consumers, but when the owner’s income rises, it comes from…thin air

A question we need to consider is what the aim of our political process should be and what benefit do we desire from our political processes.

Do we want what is best for the whole of society or just for one part of society?

Does “society” even exist?
Or not, as according to Margaret Thatcher.

If not, what would that suggest about any responsibility we may have towards those around us. Would politics therefore become an arena for the survival of the “fittest”, where profit or perish becomes the driving ideology, and “victimhood” is the product of the “victims” own behaviour?

…its genius is to convince us… If we want to end unemployment, we must punish the unemployed for their sloth. If we want to protect what we have, we must first puinish refugees for their greed.

Growth is a beautiful word, but neoliberalism has defined it in the ugliest of ways. Of course we want our children, our gardens and our country to grow and be strong, but we are told that to make our economy grow we must be ever-vigilante against those in need. Yet after thirty years of blaming the unemployed for their unemployment, and single mothers for their absent partners, the prosperity we were promised has yet to arrive for large sections of the population. indeed, many of the communities and regions that were asked to make the biggest sacrifices in the name of National Competition Policy have seen the smallest gains. While the national income has risen steadily for twenty seven years, the incomes of many in our nation have not…

One could be forgiven for thinking that those speaking the language of neoliberalism were never trying to enlarge our society – they were trying to control it.

Econobabble by Richard Denniss

econobabble_0I wish everyone could and would read this book. It cuts right through the economic spin at the heart of all of the political dogma we’re subjected to every day.

The constant lies and misinformation we’re fed by politicians and business leaders are exposed and explained. Sadly most people won’t read this book.
They’ll remain hoodwinked by their country’s leaders and resign themselves to the whims of “the market”, that voracious beast to whom the world is made to believe it is subject.

Denniss is very quick to expose the myth of “the market”. He writes:

While the markets are real, it’s absurd to suggest they have ‘feelings’, ‘needs’ or ‘demands’. Markets are a place where buyers and sellers of a product come together. It might be a physical place like a fish market, or a virtual place like eBay or a stock exchange. But regardless of their form, markets never have feelings.

Rich people, on the other hand, do have feelings. And rich people who own billions of dollars’ worth of shares in a company often have very strong feelings. They have feelings about government policies and they have feelings about tax rates,

But the feelings of rich people are quite different to the feelings of ‘the market’. Consider the following example which shows how effectively economic language can conceal what’s actually going on. Both the following reports describe the same event:

[report 1] Markets reacted angrily today to news the government is considering tightening thin capitalisation provisions which have provided foreign investors with strong incentives to expand their Australian operations.

[report 2] Rich Foreigners reacted angrily today at news that they might have to pay tax on the profits they earn in Australia. After the government announced that it was considering clamping down on some of the most lucrative forms of multi-national profit-shifting, some very wealthy Americans threatened to take heir businesses away from Australia if they were forced to pay tax.

Words matter

While I highly recommend this book, I also find it reflects very badly on the majority of us. It’s the kind of book that seems like it shouldn’t need to have been written. Denniss makes his points seem so blatantly obvious that I wonder why we need to be told at all. But clearly we do, because too many of us gullibly fall for the politically expedient rhetoric that we’re constantly fed by our nation’s leaders.

Denniss says at the beginning of the book:

When public figures and commentators dress up their self-interest as the national interest, to make the absurd seem inevitable or the inequitable seem fair, or even to make the destructive seem prudent, they are econobabbling.

Ever day econobabble silences democratic debate about our nation’s priorities and values and conceals the policy options we have at our disposal. The aim of this book is to expose the stupid arguments, bizarre contradictions and complete lack of evidence which econobabble is designed to conceal.

See here for a lengthy extract:

An interview with Richard Denniss: