The Free Lunch Gang or the Coming Demise of Neo-liberalism
This was originally written in December 2003
"There Ain’t No Sec Thing as A Free Lunch," (TANSTAAFL) the old libertarian slogan means everything is interconnected and influences everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. Acting as though it did is dangerous abstract thinking and has severe negative consequences. No group is more guilty of the free lunch mentality than the so-called conservatives who have been at the helm of government in the UK, Canada and the US for more than 20 years.
Monetarist policies were adopted by these governments to defeat the stagflation that had been infecting the economy. With typical abstract thinking, “unions” were deemed as a major part of the problem and they sought to crush them. Conservatives sought a “free lunch” of lower wages and lower expenditure on social welfare. In spite of the criticisms one can make of the trade union bureaucracy, there are no such thing as “unions”, in concrete terms what you have (or had) were tens of millions of wage earners, some of whom were reasonably well paid.
When the payment for the “free lunch” of destroying people’s living standards came due the following occurred:
The millions of unemployed, as whenever you have a great deal of unemployment, created massive social problems. It is surely no coincidence that the 1980’s saw a vast increase in suicide, crime, drug addiction, child poverty and homelessness. All of these social problems cost money, in the short term, and especially the long term.
Since two-thirds of the economy is consumer-based and the overwhelming majority of consumers are ordinary people, the recessions of the ‘80’s and early ‘90’s were long and it took years for “consumer confidence” to return. Furthermore, since many of these wage earners are now permanently earning less, the body of well paid potential consumers is less numerous, making the economy more fragile. In order to consume at an “acceptable” level, people turn to credit, which in turn adds to the potential fragility.
In the US and UK, the traditional manufacturing areas were devastated by “conservative” policies, resulting in a loss of manufacturing industries. Goods once made at home are now imported. For the USA, this has exacerbated the balance of payments problem, making the economy fragile.
Cut-backs at work have resulted in much heavier work loads. Many people work longer hours to keep up living standards. The result is employee burn-out and an enormous rise in stress-related illness. All of this costs money, in terms of time lost at work and insurance payments.
The hypocrisy of the “conservatives” has created cynicism among the populace. Voters were told that they would “get government off your back”, but what happened was more government than ever. People were told there was no money for wages or social services, yet hundreds of billions of dollars were spent on corporate welfare, government megaprojects and their favorite form of corporate welfare, war and “defense” industries. Along with this “lack of money” came an astronomical increase in incomes for CEO’s and government bureaucrats. It can be all summed up thus; when its something we want, there’s no money. When it’s something they want, the coffers are bottomless. “Conservatism” has revealed itself as nothing more than a sleazy racket to steal our money, destroy our communities and rob us of our liberties.
But the real payment for the “free lunch” has yet to be made. Twenty-five years of abuse, lies and out-right robbery have created the potential for immense social unrest. Should some act or event crystallize this latent anger, payment for the “free lunch” will be demanded in full. And the bill is going to be a big one.