Are the government deliberately creating uncertainty and fear over Brexit in order to fuel a crisis which will act as a cover for neoliberal reforms?
In her 2008 book “The Shock Doctrine” Naomi Klein describes how proponents of neoliberal politics have used crises, and the confusion they cause, to force through sweeping economic changes. The result is what Klein describes as the “policy trinity” of “elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations and skeletal social spending”.
Klein likens the process to the mid 20th Century psychiatric method of electric “shock therapy” whereby therapists believed they could take a person and create a “clean slate” by shocking away everything that had come before. The results of “shock therapy” were disastrous for those people unfortunate to be subjected to the process. Just as the results have been disastrous for countries that have been exposed to “economic shock therapy”.
In the case of economic shock therapy, Klein argues that a disaster, whether naturally occurring or caused by war or enormous social change, creates confusion under the cover of which neoliberal economic policy is ruthlessly enforced. This was the case in in the 1970’s for places such as Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and more recently in Iraq. Margaret Thatcher exploited the Falklands War in 1982 in the same way; prior to this she had been frustrated, unable to unleash her free market reforms and sinking in popularity – lower than any other British prime minister. Thatcher seized the Falklands War to remake herself and exploited the shock and awe it caused in order to let loose her rampant free market reforms, annihilating the post-war consensus once and for all.
The idea that policy change should be like launching a surprise military attack is a recurring theme for economic shock therapists. In Shock and Awe: Achieving a Rapid Dominance, the US military doctrine published in 1996 that eventually formed the basis for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the authors state that the invading force should “seize control of the environment and paralyze or so overload an adversary’s perceptions and understanding of events so that the enemy would be incapable of resistance.
Economic shock works according to a similar theory: the premise is that people can develop responses to gradual change — a slashed health program here, a trade deal there — but if dozens of changes come from all directions at once, a feeling of futility sets in, and populations go limp.
Naomi Klein, 2008:184, “The Shock Doctrine”
Whatever side of the EU Referendum they were on a lot of the British public seem baffled at the lack of detail regarding any plan for Brexit since the outcome last June. As I understand it, those people who voted for Brexit did so largely to reinstate a sense of democracy and accountability they felt had been lost tot he EU. So the lack of a plan and attempts by Theresa May and her government to leap ahead without consultation is quite a slap in the face to everyone.
We always knew that a ‘Tory Brexit’ would include little thought for the average UK citizen which is why so many on the left (myself included) backed Remain despite long held reservations regarding the corporate free for all that the EU can be. A ‘Tory Brexit’ would look nothing like what might have been a so called ‘Lexit’.
Now the Chancellor Philip Hammond has said, in an interview-slip detracting from the normal rhetoric, that the UK could become a tax haven. Iain Duncan Smith (the psychotic welfare-reformer and life-destroyer!) then quickly praised Hammond and remarked of the opportunities for companies coming to the UK.
Remember that whenever the political right discuss the “red tape” from the EU which restricts businesses; what they are referring to are the EU laws which protect our (average working Joe or Jolene) right not to be exploited.
So now thinking of Klein’s description of the neoliberal “Shock Doctrine” I would suggest that the crisis, confusion and uncertainty being caused by the lack of Brexit plans, and even the entire Brexit situation, is now (if it wasn’t always designed to be so) the latest shock to be exploited in the name of pushing through even more free market reforms. Is Theresa May waiting until all of Brexit is in hand in order to dump all the changes on the British public all at once until “a feeling of futility sets in“?
As history shows us, wonderfully laid out by Klein, these reforms will only deepen the huge social divides between ‘the haves and the have nots’ and we will see many of our valued social institutions (the NHS for example) disappear; replaced by private companies which serve only their own interests. Just how much will we be told is necessary to sacrifice in order to make Britain look “open for business”? Just what exactly is for sale?