Is this the beginning of the end for neoliberalism?
Friday 14 April 2017
Your editorial on the French elections (11 April), with its encouraging mention of the rise of the higher tax and spend candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, failed to mention possibly his biggest electoral draw: the fact that he is a leftwing protectionist. Prior to the 2012 election, polls showed that over 80% of French across the political spectrum thought that free trade had a negative impact on employment. So it’s not just immigration that is fuelling ever-broadening support for Marine Le Pen, it is also the fact that she too is an overt protectionist.
These trends have obviously not been lost on the unholy trinity of free trade pushers the IMF, WTO, and the World Bank (Report, 11 April). Having forced nations across the world to accept their open-borders, export-led growth mantra they are now busy crying crocodile tears for the “left behind”, the inevitable result of their policies. They still rail against protectionism, despite the fact that if it has a progressive end goal, it could enhance the economic and social conditions of the globally disadvantaged.
In terms of the relevance of all this to the UK, and at the risk of intruding on public grief, what are the Labour party’s views on these under-publicised protectionist trends? The likes of Trump and Le Pen have been able to turn it into a politically potent and successful issue, so why are so many progressives over here absent from this pivotal debate?
East Twickenham, Middlesex
• The attempt by the World Bank, IMF and WTO to defend the role of “free” trade merely serves to underline their role as advocates of a neoliberal order that impoverishes the many and benefits the few. The call for a “robust global trading system based on the WTO” is aimed at locking in countries to a system that removes decision-making from sovereign states and places it instead in the boardrooms of transnational corporations. When their report states that trade is good for growth, what they really mean is that it is good for corporate balance sheets. And when they refer to helping those “left behind”, they are inviting us to believe in discredited theories of trickle-down economics which holds that what is good for the rich is good for the poor.
As we move into the uncertainties of a new post-Brexit trading regime, it is incumbent upon us to develop alternative models to outdated concepts that automatically equate GDP growth with increased wellbeing. And it’s also time to not only challenge the WTO’s direction of travel but also to recognise it for what it is and campaign for its abolition, replacing it instead with a consensual model of economic integration based on the needs and aspirations of independent states and their regional priorities. As Donald Trumppreaches protectionism, he would do well to heed his far wiser predecessor, Thomas Jefferson, when he said: “Peace commerce and honest friendship with all nations … entangling alliances with none.”
International officer, GMB
• We must not lose sight of the downsides to globalisation and world trade. The rampant consumerism which is driving economic growth is certainly lifting incomes for some while also lining the pockets of global corporations. But only recently (Pollutionwatch, 10 April) you reported that our consumption of Chinese products causes about 55,000 early deaths from air pollution across China every year. While the three organisations say that they want to pay attention to disadvantaged individuals and communities, they will not be able to “lift up those who have been left behind” if they are dead.
• “We worked together to ensure that the great recession did not become another great depression”, says Christine Lagarde of the IMF. The truth is quite the opposite – they and their supporters in the US, the World Bank and the WTO, brought about the crash in 2008 with their insistence on deregulation of the finance business. The aftermath of 2008 is still penalising the poor and what used to be the better-off, both in the rich and poor worlds.
• Doughnut economics is very compelling, but George Monbiot (Opinion, 12 April) and, presumably, Kate Raworth, seem not to have encountered A Blueprint for Survival. This remarkable document was published by the Club of Rome, with spadework by MIT, in 1969. It postulated that pollution would end matters if the world proceeded on its continual pursuit of economic growth. That hasn’t happened, but not for our want of trying. But the important message was how to create a no-growth, vibrant successful economy by pouring all the world’s efforts into recycling, making things that lasted as long as possible and general encouragement of invention centred on conservation of resources and environment.
I and my colleagues teaching general studies in FE spent some enlightening weeks with our students exploring the validity of the proposals. I also wrote to my MP asking what the government’s attitude was; I got a nondescript reply. And that’s where matters shuddered to a permanent halt. I do hope Kate Raworth has better luck for all our sakes.
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire