Note to rabid conservative attack dogs: criticism of the present over-concentration of economic and political power is not equivalent to the rejection of a (well-functioning) free market system.
I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right
It has taken me more than 30 years as a journalist to ask myself this question, but this week I find that I must: is the Left right after all? You see, one of the great arguments of the Left is that what the Right calls “the free market” is actually a set-up.
The rich run a global system that allows them to accumulate capital and pay the lowest possible price for labour. The freedom that results applies only to them. The many simply have to work harder, in conditions that grow ever more insecure, to enrich the few. Democratic politics, which purports to enrich the many, is actually in the pocket of those bankers, media barons and other moguls who run and own everything.
In the 1970s and 1980s, it was easy to refute this line of reasoning because it was obvious, particularly in Britain, that it was the trade unions that were holding people back. Bad jobs were protected and good ones could not be created. “Industrial action” did not mean producing goods and services that people wanted to buy, it meant going on strike. ...
A key symptom of popular disillusionment with the Left was the moment, in the late 1970s, when the circulation of Rupert Murdoch’s Thatcher-supporting Sun overtook that of the ever-Labour Daily Mirror. Working people wanted to throw off the chains that Karl Marx had claimed were shackling them – and join the bourgeoisie which he hated. Their analysis of their situation was essentially correct. The increasing prosperity and freedom of the ensuing 20 years proved them right.
... It turns out – as the Left always claims – that a system purporting to advance the many has been perverted in order to enrich the few. The global banking system is an adventure playground for the participants, complete with spongy, health-and-safety approved flooring so that they bounce when they fall off. The role of the rest of us is simply to pay.
This column’s mantra about the credit crunch is that Everything Is Different Now. One thing that is different is that people in general have lost faith in the free-market, Western, democratic order. They have not yet, thank God, transferred their faith, as they did in the 1930s, to totalitarianism. They merely feel gloomy and suspicious. But they ask the simple question, “What's in it for me?”, and they do not hear a good answer.
... The greatest capitalist country in history is now dependent on other people’s capital to survive. In such circumstances, Western democracy starts to feel like a threatened luxury. We can wave banners about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, but they tend to say, in smaller print, “Made in China”.
As for the plight of the eurozone, this could have been designed by a Left-wing propagandist as a satire of how money-power works. A single currency is created. A single bank controls it. No democratic institution with any authority watches over it, and when the zone’s borrowings run into trouble, elected governments must submit to almost any indignity rather than let bankers get hurt. What about the workers? They must lose their jobs in Porto and Piraeus and Punchestown and Poggibonsi so that bankers in Frankfurt and bureaucrats in Brussels may sleep easily in their beds.
When we look at the Arab Spring, we tend complacently to tell ourselves that the people on the streets all want the freedom we have got. Well, our situation is certainly better than theirs. But I doubt if Western leadership looks to a protester in Tahrir Square as it did to someone knocking down the Berlin Wall in 1989. We are bust – both actually and morally. ...