Today I’ve been following a document trail concerning the French government decision to adopt the so-called Barre Plan in 1976. This is part of the research on doing for my next book on why the Left abandoned progressive economic strategies and became what we now think of as austerity-lite merchants. I am hoping the manuscript will be finished by April 2016 and the book will emerge a bit later in the year. while the approach that will be taking is emerging, the strategy is to pinpoint key events in history where significant economic policy changes occurred and to analyse the rationale that was used to defend those policy shifts and to assess whether the circumstances that applied at those points in time provide any guidance to current day challenges. One of the big events that lead to deep uncertainty among Social Democratic politicians and their advisers, which arguably, was a key driver in the shift of these parties to the Right, was the Stagflation of the 1970s. The phenomenon of the simultaneous coincidence of accelerating inflation and rising unemployment had not previously been witnessed in the period following the Second World War. It needs a careful analysis because much of the popular understanding of this period and the claims that it demonstrated a failure of Keynesian policy approaches are incorrect and provide no basis for rejecting fiscal intervention to maintain full employment.
The GFC clearly, in my view, demonstrated that the political positions held by both the left- and right-wing governments in the West with respect to economic policy were untenable. Both sides of politics in each major and country adopted versions of market liberalism where the overlap was more dominant than the differences. While the left maintained some emphasis on social policy and the right maintained an emphasis on individual freedom (which was more about corporate freedom than anything), the fact remains that these differences were blurred by the dominance of the free market approach in each of their platforms. It is ironic, that as a consequence of the GFC, the bureaucratic state is more dominant now than it was, especially in the European Union where the political and technical elite interacts with the so-called market to create what has been called the democratic deficit. We now have technocrats in the European bureaucracy, in the IMF, in the World Bank and other multilateral organisations who contrive to implement policies which have allowed the benefits of economic activity to be increasingly diverted to beneficiaries who are at the top end of the income and wealth distribution. Today’s blog continues reporting some of the research I’ve been doing for my next book on the demise of the Left and the subjugation of public purpose in the name of austerity. It seems that we have concentrated on fiscal austerity but the general notion of austerity, which is now the centrepiece of political positions in most advanced countries, goes well beyond just fiscal policy. The response to the recent events in Paris demonstrate how far the state is willing to centralise authoritative controls on the rights of their citizens.