Paul Hindley writes:
Neoliberalism is a right-wing form of economics that promotes expansive free markets, deregulation, and unfettered privatisation. It has been the prevailing economic outlook of the global economy for over thirty years. It is disputable the extent to which neoliberalism could be described as being either new or liberal. In Britain, the term neoliberalism is often replaced with the term Thatcherism after the Prime Minister who most ardently supported neoliberal policies.
Over the last few months global markets have been increasingly turbulent, the debt crisis in Europe has grown darker and the American economy has been downgraded by several ratings agencies. The global economy could not be any further from ‘business as usual’ and yet there is a perception that ordinary people seem to be paying for the mistakes of the rich and powerful. People are losing their jobs, the prices of basic the commodities are rising and the price of fuel and energy just seems to continue to rocket upwards. And this is before we mention the impact that global austerity will inevitably have on people’s lives.
A few weeks ago in Liverpool Ed Miliband tried to offer an alternative to the neoliberal consensus that has dominated British and global politics for over thirty years. The antidote to neoliberalism which Ed Miliband (and some in the Labour Party) seems to be adopting is the ‘Blue Labour’ thesis of Lord Glasman. Which seems to amount to what is in effect a conservative social democracy and although it is welcome that parts of the Labour Party are trying to distance themselves from neoliberalism (after 13 years of promoting its agenda) they should not confuse opposing neoliberalism with opposing liberalism outright. The fear is that Labour may be leaning towards the latter, especially given the party’s abysmal record on civil liberties as well as an increasingly social conservative stance on immigration. (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/09/25/labour-party-conference-2_n_980082.html). There is a credible alternative to neoliberalism that seeks to empower people, build a fairer society and encourage stronger participation within our communities and this outlook is social liberalism.
Social liberalism seeks to enhance the freedom of the individual as well as empower them and their communities as part of a vibrant local democracy. It is an outlook that does not seek to place power in the hands of an authoritative bureaucratic state or undemocratic market forces but in the hands of ordinary people. A social liberal capitalism is one that empowers people not impoverishes them. Hence a strong commitment to social justice and equal opportunities; which are a means in themselves to attaining greater individual freedom and greater fairness. To this end, gross inequalities of wealth undermine the freedom of the poorest in our society. These gross inequalities have become too extreme over the past thirty years. Social liberals are not anti-state or anti-market, but they are sceptical to the extent that they can advance freedom and fairness if they are too big and too expansive. The state requires strong civil liberties and human rights laws to prevent it from eroding individual freedom. Likewise, the market requires sufficient regulation and adequate redistribution to ensure that it is not too unstable or that wealth inequalities do not become too extreme.
In these present times, when neoliberal capitalism is seen to be incredibly unstable and unfair, it is necessary that we have a new approach to replace it. An approach that shifts power away from distant markets towards ordinary people. An approach that seeks to protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our societies, while ensuring that the rich pay their fair share. An approach that seeks to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. This approach is social liberalism.