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The mindless and myopic nature of neoliberalism

A short blog post as per my usual Wednesday behaviour these days. Fiscal austerity manifests in many ways, all of them unpleasant, destructive and unnecessary. Here is one of the more insidious ways that mindless cuts in government programs have long-term damaging impacts. In 2013, the Queensland State Government was taken over by a conservative extremist as Premier who thought it was a good idea to hack into sexual health programs targetted at indigenous communities. Over a few short years, this was just one of a huge number of social and health cuts that were made by that particular state government. More than 14,000 public service jobs were cut (a huge relative number). The State government fiscal deficit fell from a predicted $A6 billion in 2013-14 to $A2.58 billion. But like all these austerity cuts which deliver short-run reductions in public spending, the longer-term effects of the cuts lead to much higher amounts of public spending. Neoliberalism is not only mindless but myopic. I have made this point often in regard to infrastructure cuts. In the end, the government has to spend much more fixing the crisis the initial cuts create. Not a sensible strategy at all. The ‘chickens’ (manifestation) of those cuts in Queensland a few years ago are now coming home to roost. As predicted at the time, there is now a health crisis in the form of a STD epidemic moving across the north of Australia from east to west, purely because this idiot wanted to ‘save’ a few pennies. Now serious public cash is being required to put a brake on the health crisis he created. There are countless examples across the world over this neoliberal era of this same phenomena. Myopic and mindless.

Campbell Newman served as Premier of Queensland from March 2012 to January 2015, a short period but with devastating consequences.

Check out this page – How evil is Campbell Newman – which documents his policy legacy. It is not pretty.

On July 12, 2013, the Brisbane Times carried this story – STI rates will soar when health service goes: doctors – which reported that:

Rates of sexually transmitted infection will soar in Queensland following the slashing of services at Brisbane’s only free sexual health clinic …

A doctor predicted that STI such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis would all rise as a consequence.

The government lackeys all “rejected claims” that this would happen.

Sort of like European Commission employees in senior, well-paid positions tweeting about how wonderful the European Union is (eh Thomas!).

The government was effectively cutting “an essential service to decrease sexual health diseases”.

The Federal government at the time (Labor) noted that the “Queensland government’s decision to scale back sexual health clinics in north Queensland opens the door to a potential epidemic of sexually transmitted disease migrating across from Papua New Guinea” (Source).

The following graph shows the incidence of various STD from 2004 to 2017 (data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).

After bringing Chlamydia under some sort of control before this madman took office, its incidence has now accelerated. While the scale does not show the extent of the Syphilis epidemic that is now raging, the data is that in 2010 there were 11.2 cases reported per 100,000 persons.

By 2017, the incidence had risen to 25.7.

A similar story can be told for Gonorrhoea where the incidence has risen from 35.6 in 2004 to 118 in 2017.

The recent ABC news report (January 8, 2019) – Syphilis outbreak control attempts a ‘total failure’ says Australian Medical Association – relates that the current attempts to halt the syphilis epidemic has been a “total failure”.

But the interesting aspect of the research into the epidemic is that:

… it spread from north Queensland in 2013, now reaching three states and the Northern Territory …

The president of the local Northern Territory Australian Medical Association is in no doubt that:

The problem is a lot of the sexual health programs have actually been defunded, so all the people you need on the ground are not there any more to educate people on safe-sex practices.

Result: the spread of the disease to epidemic proportions.

The indigenous Australians are most affected and this just reinforces their disadvantage.

The Federal government is now committing funds to help curb the epidemic but their austerity-biased brains can only come up with pennies when many millions are needed.

And all those who preach austerity including the majority of the economics profession, who continually are claiming that these sort of fiscal cutbacks are necessary to reduce the ‘burden’ on the future generations, are silent when these sorts of events occur.

Syphilis not only damages the current generation but also “can be fatal for newborns” and can leave children born to parents stricken with the disease with long-term problems.

And, a related theme is when hard-line conservatives often claim that there should be no support from the State for those in poverty who keep having children.

Remember the call from the British Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi in 2013, who was claiming public funds to “heat his mansion and stables”, for “child benefits to be cut for poor families” (Source).

In Australia, there are ongoing claims that single mothers keep having sex and babies to get more from the public pension.

All smokescreens to allow the top-end-of-town to take more for themselves.

Brexit …

I get quite a bit of ‘hate’ E-mail about this topic.

The latest intensification has been lecturing me along the lines that as an Australian who didn’t live through the Brexit referendum process or who will have to live with the consequences of the outcome I should not comment.

This is the classic – unless one is directly and materially impacted by something one should not have an opinion.

It is a corollary or complement to the unless one has experienced something you cannot know what it is like and so you cannot talk about it.

As a public intellectual I have a responsibility to bring my skills to provide different perspectives to a debate. I never speak on matters publicly where I am not qualified in terms of my professional background (for example, PhD in economics).

But being Australian is irrelevant.

I would guess that I know more about the data, legal frameworks, history and all the rest of the relevant matters pertaining to the EU etc than the average British citizen.

Further, I find it rather odd when those on the Europhile Left who continuously preach about international solidarity and building global Leftist movements start telling me to butt out of the Brexit debate or the Eurozone debate because I don’t live there.

I would have thought they would have welcomed the interest of an Australian from the Left as a global partner in the struggle to re-establish the ‘Internationale’.

But then that would be as if I was trying to find some consistency in the stance taken by these characters. I may as well keep an eye out for those pigs that might fly by.

An a great oldie here …

I was listening this morning to this album – Halfbreed – which I purchased in 1970 just days after it arrived via import in Australia (it was released in the UK in 1969).

The song is Born to Die.

The band is the Keef Hartley Band (named after its drummer and leader).

They were one of the few British bands to appear at the first Woodstock festival.

Keef Hartley was also the only other musician on John Mayall’s first released the Blues Alone (the first album I ever purchased as a teenager).

This was their first album and was probably their best.

They had lots of changes in line-up which Keef Hartley justified as being like a ‘jazz outfit’, where musicians can freewheel in and out and improvise.

I liked that about them and formed a penchant in the early 1970s in bands I played in for free form.

The lead guitar player on this song and album was Ian Cruickshank, one of the more competent British guitar players who few have ever heard about. He died in 2017.

After starting out in this sort of blues outfit he became a Django Reinhardt devotee and played in his band – Ian Cruickshank’s Gypsy Jazz. He also wrote several books about Django.

This song features beautifully phrased guitar (Gibson SG) and a perfect blend of Hammond B-3 through some sweet Leslie Cabinets.

What a combination!

And much better than thinking about filthy politicians who cause venereal diseases to spread through communities all for the sake of ‘saving’ a few bucks.

The idiocy of that type of fiscal behaviour is now obvious.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2019 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    This Post Has 14 Comments
    1. I find this criminal dolt simply incredible. Grayling is merely an imbecile, while this asshole should be in jail. It is too bad that there is no neoliberal twat test which, if you pass, you are barred from any public office.

    2. And of course, devastating parallels in Greece:

      ‘They note (i.e those working on STD prevention) that, despite what some Western press have called a recovery, the economic devestation wrought by the Troika (i.e., the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) is far from over. In actuality, the economic crisis — now in its tenth year in The Hellenic Republic — is actually worse.

      Unemployment is at its height (20 percent) and the youth unemployment rate is even higher at 43.6 percent. “Because unemployment rates are high and steady, poverty rates have increased from 8.9 percent in 2011 to 15 percent of the total population in 2015. Compounding unemployment and extreme poverty are the conditions created by thousands of refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, who, because of war or persecution in their countries, are seeking entry into Europe via Turkey through Greece,” adds Halkitis.

      The financial crisis has impacted the universal healthcare system of Greece as well. “Services such as cancer-screening programs, treatment for mental health and substance use, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention programs, and municipal public health services have suffered severe cuts.” (www.hivplusmag.com/opinion/2018/6/04/will-hiv-be-greeces-next-crisis)

      No intergenerational debts there, then! The crassness is on a cosmic level.

    3. Some within the conservative spheres would like to erase those who do not fit within their accepted norms from existence. They don’t even make much effort to try to conceal this, it’s their way or the highway. If you are not with them your Charlie, and they’re quite ok with weaponizing policy that inflicts suffering and worse on those who do not conform to their minority wishes.

      Within the broader scheme of neoliberal austerity practiced at the federal level, Conservative leaders further down, playing to their base, are quite willing to use the growing regional debt excuse to justify evil actions like cutting into health or education programs, and the promise of lower taxes never fails to drag enough non conservatives along as allies to win the majority when times get tougher.

      Like the ceo’s of many a failed corporation who chose to cut rather than seek creative ways to redirect resources into new revenue streams as old ones dry up, the regional leader who cuts vital programs only succeeds in growing debt with less ability to pay in the end.

      Tax and spend regional Liberals working within neoliberal parameters offer little more. They have worked to privatize revenue generators like public utilities which had put the money into our pockets that once became future revenue sustaining other socially beneficial and long term cost reducing programs they once created.

      As bad as conservative extremism is, without it’s enabler, neoliberal ideology, and it’s adherents, the impacts would be less severe.

    4. Understood in its full context Brexit is not simply a problem for the British people as the economic and political factors which drove the people into voting for Brexit are not restricted to the EU but hold implications for people all around the world.

      The main issue in contention is Neoliberalism and the transfer of democratic political and economic control to markets and technocrats. It should also be noted that Neoliberalism following and defending Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq, has also adopted a ‘progressive’ approach to the implementation of US Neoconservative foreign policy. Taken together the result in the Middle East has been that millions have died and suffered at the hands of a totalitarian minded, neoliberal progressive imperialism that seeks to release socialist state owned oil resources for Neoliberal exploitation.

      The war on Terrorism was never prosecuted as a war on terrorism it was always a cover to attack what remained of socialist Arab governments in the region.

      The threats of Neoliberal Globalism coupled with Progressive/Neoconservative imperialist geopolitics are not only British issues. They should rightly concern everyone who believes in the principles of democracy and the complete unacceptability of war. Once one understands all of this then one can see how it is imperative for Bill to understand Brexit and advance his views. As a UK citizen I welcome the critique of Neoliberalism from all those around the world who are concerned about these things.

      The point of Brexit is that it in Europe at least, it is probably the last opportunity for any European population to deny the logics of Neoliberalism and reassert the possibility and importance of participatory democracy, sovereignty and self-determination. If the UK can prove there is a successful economic life outside of the EU supranational Neoliberal Teutonic state then other EU countries will follow us out of it.

      There is no question of any party, whether they be left, centre or right wing of changing the EU from within as the timetable as to when governments can possibly be elected around Europe excludes the possibility of the Left ever being all elected at the same time in order to effect change. A socialist government such as Syriza can be elected in principle but it will be rounded upon and hounded into submission by the Neoliberal majority. This is essentially why we currently see Italy’s Salvini and Di Maio’s showing open support of the Yellow Vests by stoking protest in France in the hope that another populist democratic government could be elected.

      Brexit could well be the last opportunity to take a stand against all of this this and help lead Europe back from the abyss.

    5. Bill,
      This is sadly just one of many instances where neoliberalism has corrupted the minds of policy makers. Think of private-public partnerships, which are all the rage these days due to its alleged virtues. It’s not often acknowledged that IMF rules do not take guaranteed income clauses for private contractors/operators into account when it comes to public debt management, wheareas in the case of wholly public works they do and so they can bully nations into “consolidating” their fiscal patterns of spending. So, “save” now, get the green light from the IMF and in a matter of years the private operators make a killing out of their investment, courtesy of the public purse. It really is an amazing sham.

    6. Small mistake on my previous comment: in the case of wholly public works, the IMF does of course take into account any financing that may be required. Naturally, there are no guaranteed income clauses for private operators as the project would be entirely done by the government.

    7. I too am mystified by Leftists (so-called) who support the EU. On another economic blog forum I pointed out that the EU was a neoliberal construct. Others on the forum agreed (that it was a neoliberal construct) and then went into standard double-think mode and said Brexit was a mistake. Their reasoning was that a Tory Britain when Brexited would be worse off under the Tories than being in the EU. I pointed out that the UK was a democracy and that it could choose a Corbyn Labor Govt instead. I also asked the rhetorical question, “So you prefer a big neoliberal project (the EU) to a small one (the UK)?” There were no substantive answers to that point.

      I pointed out all the substantive arguments made by Joseph Stiglitz, Bill Mitchell and some others against the current set-up of the Eurozone. I pointed out the predictions made by these economists critical of the Eurozone; their predictions of problems for it, which predictions have been shown by events to be coming true (empirical confirmation of theory). The replies on that issue never addressed my substantive points. They simply centered around the hysterical idea that Britain could not possibly trade successfully when not in the EU and Britain would collapse, more or less, into total chaos.

      I have noticed that most people today, even many so-called liberal leftists, simply cannot envisage any economics except pure neoliberalism. They have been completely brainwashed. They have no idea that any other economic system is possible. Thus, while their identity politics are leftist (support for refugees and gay marriage for example) they have absolutely no understanding of class politics and political economy. Everything is seen in the light of pure neoliberal economics. It’s an astonishing level of ignorance. Clearly, they have done no reading of history and political economy.

      But then I suppose even people born when I was (1954) have never known anything but neoliberalism for their entire adult lives. If they have read no history, no political economy and no heterodox economics writers, they can have had no exposure to any ideas about economics and politics but the endless propaganda for neoliberalism in our mass media. The expunging of history and comparative political economy from the collective public mind has been as effective as any erasure of history Orwell’s “1984”.

    8. @ Ikonoclast

      I was one of those leftist that saw a greater risk in Brexit than the positives it could bring. This was mainly due to the fact that it held its own currency and sovereignity in fiscal matters as opposed to the “less equal” members of the EU like Greece, Portugal, Spain or Italy (who I have always hoped would leave the MU sooner rather than later). Only after a couple of months reading Bill’s blog was I educated about the common currency being just one of the many heads of the neoliberal hydra that the EU has become.

      Still, the support for the EU from the left doesn’t necessarily involve “double thinking”, but often it is a conflation of different aspects, as you yourself correctly identified. Essentially, the european establishment have engineered their image as the last bastion of freedom against unsavory authoritarian nationalists like Salvini, Orban or Le Pen or the Orange One over the pond. Here in Germany, a lot of people seem to think that not supporting the current european project makes you a nationalist ipso facto. That label still stings here.

      As you correctly state, most people are either economically illiterate (I too have been met with disbelief in German forums when I call the EU the neoliberal institution it is) or mercantilistic at best (Germans are simply more efficient and disciplined), so the economic discussions are reduced to either inane neoliberal media talking points in the first case or a senseless morality play in the latter.

      In my opinion, either neoliberal dogma must be cast aside by all relevant political actors and media (fat cahnce of that happening…) or, like the movie title, there will be blood. This european standoff won’t then be solved by clearheaded, rational leaders, but by the populist that exploits the “gut feeling” of the people the best. Call me a pessimist, but when given the choice, I expect the people to swerve sharply to the right, towards the more “natural” fascistoid tendencies of nationalism, cult of action and strong leaders, anti-intellectualism, minority bashing, etc.

    9. On a positive note, though, my home country just elected a leftist president after fighting twelve years against the media, political and economical elite that subverted previous efforts. After hearing his inaugural adress, one can see why they opposed him. It included phrases such as:

      “Neoliberalism has been a calamity” or that he’ll fight “…privatizations and […] corruption, the former being synonymous with the latter.”

      His plans include big investments in infrastructure, wage raises and increases in staff in the public sector, raising the minimum wage and investments in education and social benefits. I have no problem with any of that and all the neoliberal opposition has to critizice is that it can’t be paid for (which of course is BS since Mexico’s qualifies as a modern monetary system) or that he is somehow a misogynist or other identity politics BS (makes one think of the “Bernie bro’s”).

      The big problems will be the rampaging corruption that he intends to erradicate (good luck!), his unambitious energy policy (roll back privatizations and revitalize the old state oil company but no considerable green push) and the current security situation which is out of control due to the tightly knit drug cartel – police/military – politics web of criminals.

      I’ll spare Bill the moderation of a link to an external source, but it was widely covered in mainstream media (WP, NYT, Guardian, etc.).

    10. Yikes, forgot the most important info: the country is Mexico and the president is Andrés Manuel López Obrador aka “AMLO”.

    11. Apart from Fred Chaney in WA the Australian neo-cons have no real concern for ordinary people or indigenous health/welfare. As John Doyle commented what the Qld government did under Campbell Newman was criminal. Thank you Bill for introducing me to more of the most obscure but interesting Blues/Jazz guitarists and bands from the 60’s, much appreciated. I was a fan of Django Reinhardt and had one of his albums, my older brother was a big fan.

    12. Australia really is a developing world colony in many ways, the banana republic of Queensland especially so. Not only are the local indigenous people and poor denied jobs and medical care and forced into misery, the mineral resources which belong to the people are plundered with minimal taxation and royalties being paid. Most of the mining industry is foreign owned. The political class in the states and federally serve the lobbyists, those that fund their campaigning and those that control the mass media which they fear. The support by both Queensland Labor and the despicable conservatives of the proposed Carmichael mega coal mine and the half dozen follow on mega coal mines in Queensland’s Galilee Basin is an example.

      The mining industry are also the main funders of the Institute of Public Affairs that defines the policy agenda for the ruling federal conservative Liberal and National Party coalition government. It is only what is left of the social and economic infrastructure that was built up gradually over the previous century that makes the country still look a little developed.

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