Neoliberalism is Dead

And good riddance to it.

A criminal investigation into the fire at Grenfell Tower on 14 June 2017 is now underway. This can only be the right thing to do. It'll cancel out the problem of delay that an exhaustive public enquiry produces, and the advantages that responsible parties can accrue from such delays.

Like nearly all disasters this one has multiple strands. First, there is the creation of higher and extra risks produced by deregulation. Second, is the issue of cuts to public services in multiple domains, not just in the emergency services that have to respond to the disasters as they occur, but also in the development and enforcement of what little regulation there is left to try to prevent the disaster occurring in the first place. Third is the regular appointment of political overseers for reasons of fealty rather than expertise, which invites cynical exploitation of circumstances in the present which have potentially disastrous outcomes at a future time, when the appointee has already fled the scene. Fourth, is the incentivisation of businesses to cut corners to generate enhanced profits for cynical operators. Fifth, is the negative outcomes that extreme levels of inequality can produce in both lack of access to a decent quality of life and, when even that is not available, lack of voice when risks become obvious. Sixth, is the law of unintended consequences, which is iron-clad where the above five are in full working order and combine together. There are probably more ...

One thing that is starting to emerge (number seven?) also, is the role of the media throughout. The ways in which particular media organisations intervene to drive the processes of deregulation, reductions in public resources, and cynically exploit circumstances for economic and political gain in the UK is scandalous. I hesitate to call for more oversight and regulation, but the idea that four fifths of the UK's national press is owned by people who are ordinarily resident overseas, or who do not even hold British nationality, produces obviously negative outcomes in our society.

But for the devout muslims returning home from midnight prayers, who saw the fire and managed to wake some residents and get them out of the building, the eventual death toll would have been considerably higher, and certainly much higher than the press is currently prepared to report (Lily Allen has been brave enough to challenge the current 'managed' interpretations we are being fed so far).

The overwhelming public reaction to this disaster so far - in addition to the shock, horror and sadness at the fire itself - has been revulsion of the circumstances that have led up to this event, and of some of the media and political responses to it. Is this revulsion indicative of a rejection of neoliberalism and its normative principles, with those being deregulation, unfettered markets, inequality, and more? Maybe so; I hope so.

For the moment we must sympathise and grieve; but the time will come for a public reckoning on this terrible fire and the ideologies and practices it exposes.

Note: This Blog post is an amended and expanded version of a Facebook post which references the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June.