Capital v labour: where is the poll on neo-liberalism?

by | Aug 1, 2022 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

In Fleet Street they used to call it the Reverse Ferret, to say one thing one day then take entirely the opposite editorial stance the next. And so it is with Nine, News Corp and Anthony Albanese. Michael West on media, government and neo-liberalism. 

No less than 34 points now stand between Albanese and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. Murdoch’s Newspoll today marks a record approval rating for Albo and Dutton has sunk even lower than Scott Morrison in the public esteem.

It’s a far cry from the relentless campaign headlines: “Desperate Albo”, “Not so Albaneasy”, “Don’t Count on Me”, “Amateur Albo” and “Albo’s 600bn carbon bill”. Today, beneath the routine propaganda for the fossil fuel juggernauts in The Australian, is a demure “Record electoral satisfaction with PM”.

Same deal in the US where, having egged on Trump to the point of the treasonous January 6 assault on the Capitol, Murdoch properties such as the New York Post and even Fox News are now abandoning Trump, backtracking – not on principle or truth or any high-minded journalistic principle – but on the basis that Trump can’t win the next election. 

It is commercial agendas and the pursuit of power first for Rupert Murdoch but a Machiavellian expedience to back a winner next. Ergo, smears give way to suck-jobs.

Peter Costello’s Nine too, although never so blatant, has executed a reverse ferret of its own. Nine was more clever. They switched horses, pulled off their reverse ferret and hopped on the Albo bandwagon halfway through the election campaign when they saw Morrison was on a hiding to nothing. Very smooth. Now they, although stacked with Liberal types and greasy-pole careerists in their upper echelons, have capitulated to political and commercial reality. 

The Coalition changed the media laws so Nine could swallow Fairfax and create a mainstream media duopoly and a quick perusal of their financial statements will show, as with the modest corporate revival of News Corp, the upheaval of the digital revolution has now run its course. JobKeeper, though undeserved, helped.

They, too, have switched to schmoozing Albo and the daily smearing of the Teals and the Greens is now the order of the day. For the commercial reality for media and government is that the extravagant super profits now being reaped by fossil fuel corporations means plenty of dollars spent on political donations and media companies.

The objective now of the fossil fuel giants is to lock in as much coal and gas production, as many new projects and as many public subsidies as they can before the game is over. We are in the twilight of the carbon economy at a time when when the carbon club is making more money than ever.

Cartels not markets

Greasing up to Labor therefore is the order of the day and we see daily scare campaigns about fossil fuel tax and the transition to renewable energy. Gas is the big one. Gas is key to both manufacturing, households and electricity production. The line in the corporate media therefore is to deride calls for a domestic gas reservation policy and a carbon exports tax with scare campaigns about governments interfering in the “market”.

Not that there is a market, only a cartel.

News Corp pundit Judith Sloan even went so far as to claim that if we did not meet their demands, unless we treated them nicely, they would up and leave. This ignores the jarring reality that one, these resources actually belong to Australians and two, they can’t leave and take the North West Shelf oil projects and the undersea minerals with them.

Nor would they as they are on a great wicket, paying far less than they should in both income tax, PRRT and royalties.

Following the money, the foreign MNC behind the gas cartel are now making astronomical profits. Their aim is to get the life of their projects extended for as long as they can, and so they are backing Albo and deriding the Greens and Teals who want new projects axed. 

The problem for ordinary Australians in this is that the corruption and incompetence of the Coalition has damaged trust in government. ScoMo even said it the other day in his sermon in Western Australia – people don’t trust government. The ultimate irony, really given his own track record.

Curse of neo-liberalism

Yet there is a deeper problem, one for the academics, policy makers and deep thinkers. We now have a political and ideological vacuum. For decades, the prevailing ideology propelling politics and government policy has been based on the principles of neo-liberalism.

Citing Wikipedia: “Neoliberalism is contemporarily used to refer to market-oriented reform policies such as “eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers and reducing, especially through privatisation and austerity, state influence in the economy.”

It was always self-serving, promoted by those who would gain financially from it. But this is a bankrupt and hollow philosophy now. State influence in the economy is higher than ever though, both in pure size of government budgets and in the connections between industry and government.

The Pandemic has laid bare what is really going on, as has the plight of Qantas, the soaring energy prices thanks to MNC gas cartel. What we have now is not the primacy of markets, it is the primacy of crony capitalists. The business lobby continues to beat down wages and taxes but big business – thanks to lobbying and political donations – but large corporations are now fused with governments like never before, fused to the point where wages are being crushed, while corporate profits are astronomical (even though most of the money in dividends, interest and capital returns from our minerals wealth flows offshore).

The workers have done their bit for productivity.

Yet they have not been rewarded, proportionately, for their work.

There is no “market” in gas, it’s a cartel: publicly subsidised, protected, and allowed to pay little income tax and not nearly enough in royalties. JobKeeper – and the fact that a tiny portion of it was paid back – demonstrates that capitalism is now about gouging what you can from governments in return for your donations, being propped up by the public, by ordinary taxpayers, being shielded indeed from true market forces. Too big to fail.

Yet we persist with neo-liberalism. It is just a name, often perjoratively bandied about as is the sledge Marxist too for those who espouse the cause of workers. Still, it remains the prevailing ideology, that markets are better than government when it comes to running things, that things – even essential monopolies – ought to be privatised, even that there are true markets. 

But here we have Qantas in disarray, rescued by the state, given billions but with no obligations as to service for customers or retaining staff while executive bonuses are back.

The banks are all propped up by guarantees they can’t fail. Monopoly toll road operator Transurban is hiking its tolls, the casino duopoly Star and Crown are found to be systemic criminal enterprises but there are no penalties for directors, no prosecutions, and even another licence to operate given in Sydney. All got JobKeeper.

In energy, corporate lobbyists beat down environmental objections and global scientific consensus. On small fracker backed by a US hedge fund billionaire even thumbed its nose at request to appear before parliamentary inquiry after picking up a government grant.

Corporations are running roughshod over governments, with impunity. Lawyers rampant, threatening actions for commercial advantage, officers of the court abusing their oath to make money. Business leadership, massaged by minions in the press, is unaccountable.

It is a good thing the Albanese government has shown determination to drive for reform. Yet the problems of rising inequality and alienation are mountainous challenges which require system change, and a new way of thinking.

Once, leading academics might have espoused a credible new ideology to replace the forlorn and empty rhetoric of neo-liberalism. Now, the universities have been enfeebled by corporate influence.

Corporate control over media and the rising influence of large institutions are partly to blame. Social media policies leave dissent unacceptable. The gap between haves and have-nots grows. Even as the government presses ahead, a Labor government at that, with tax cuts for high income earners in the institutions – to the detriment of low earners who have just lost their tax offsets – the long finger of the business lobby is pointed at wage earners wanting pay rises as an inflationary threat.

This despite the fact that workers don’t put prices up, companies do. And companies would rather drive higher profits than pay their workers more.

For 70 years, corporations have increased their share of national wealth at the expense of workers. It is a long-term thing. What is the endgame when workers don’t earn enough to spend in the economy?

O Lucky Man? Albo out to break the Labor hoodoo

Michael West established michaelwest.com.au to focus on journalism of high public interest, particularly the rising power of corporations over democracy. Formerly a journalist and editor at Fairfax newspapers and a columnist at News Corp, West was appointed Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.

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