The need for politics? An Australian Options forum

Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Forum

The need for politics?

An Australian Options forum

Right-wing libertarians have no need for politics, as they believe that the invisible hand of the market ensures the best outcomes. Political deliberations and collective activities interfere with the magic of the market. Hence, they condemn unions, denigrate politics and demand the removal of regulatory institutions and deliberative decision-making. They portray mass democracy as the enemy of economic efficiency.

The recent book The Fourth Revolution by Economist editors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge does not go to these ‘Tea Party’ extremes. This is evident in a rather sympathetic recent interview in the Saturday Paper. Yet this relative 'moderation' means that the left must take it more seriously. The arguments may well have the same seductive effect on labor and social democrats as did market deregulation, corporatisation and privatisation in the 1970s and 1980s. Their argument is that 'Leviathan has to be tamed. It has to be brought under control'. They say this is a matter of pragmatic managementand of political principles. Of the former, 'Championing the cause of better management should be completely apolitical'. Of the second,

More fundamentally, the modern state is also a threat to liberty: When the state takes half of everything that you produce, when it prevents people from earning a living braiding hair without an expensive license, when it dictates the race and gender of people whom you can employ, when it summons up draconian powers to fight “wars” on terror, speeding motorists, and marijuana, then it has begun to become a master rather than a servant.

This is the familiar rhetoric of neoliberals, emphasising the virtues of ‘smaller government’. To date, however, neo-liberals have not succeeded in their stated intentions of rolling back government. Indeed, in practice, they put more emphasis on the form of government so that it more directly serves corporate interests: the current federal budget in Australia is an example. However, their very well funded proselytising has sapped the self-confidence of the left.

Some prominent public and scholarly figures, even from the left, accept that the 'size' of government is a problem and that tax revenues cannot be increased. Many nominally left-of-centre governments, especially in the Anglophone world, have advocated deregulation and tax cuts to make their economy 'competitive'. This provides a 'base' on which right-wing governments, such as those currently in office in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, can cut further.

These ideas are open to challenge. They need to be analysed and contested if space is to be opened up for more progressive strategies and public policies. To further this objective, Australian Options has solicited some short contributions to stimulate debate and action. Our goal is to emphasise that politics is the core practice for the left, especially democratic socialists. We must convey a strong vision that an expansion of democracy is essential to material, social and environmental progress. We give democracy and politics a wide scope to include collective activity in civil society as well as central and local government and state. The short articles below develop these themes. The editors of Australian Options warmly welcome further contributions.

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