Market-driven politics - part two of review
There is a great wood and trees problem in understanding the politics of this process. Unlike the textbook models of markets, every single real market has its own unique features. Individual cases then enable us to see some of the common features of this process. Leys does not make the case that each of the four conditions have a distinctive politics. Instead he shows the roles of lobbies, of personal networks of influence, of political funding, of the infiltration of political parties, the state and institutions of global regulation, of the resourcing of partisan research and think tanks, of the interested peopling of advisory councils and public boards. Their purposes, in a spectacular denial of conflicts of interest, are to weaken public regulation in relentless cycles of pressures for incremental change, to weaken enforcement and/or quality standards (but to apply them selectively to disadvantage public services), to weaken sources of resistance and stoke support, to restrict public capital and current expenditure, to re-structure the sources of public revenue, to claim risk-minimising contracts with residual state providers, to present the transformations of service into commodities, supply and demand as a `technology' transfer and abolish the concepts of public service. In both broadcasting and health conglomerates diversified, concentrated and differentiated; pay became spectacularly more unequal, product quality was shaped by commercial interests and residual services deteriorated and were rationed. New labour politicians, whose party is increasingly funded by corporate interests, operate in centralised and `depoliticised' ways which take them away from the electorate, unions and activists and enable them to naturalise markets and audit and to de-democratise the state..
At a time when Tony Blair has called public service unions `wreckers', Colin Leys shows just who the real wreckers are. He argues that public services are a key aspect of a democratic society; they express such a society's collective interests and they help shape it at the same time. There is never no alternative. Public services can be provided in many ways, from voluntary work, through non-profit trusts to state provision. These can be more efficient - not simply in costs but also in the quality of outcomes - than are firms dominated by short-term shareholder interests. Leys indicates what is to be done: public services need a clear philosophy that is publicised, celebrated and funded through taxation. They need practical policy, encouraging innovation and dynamism where it can be justified on public service grounds. They need active political protection and defence from the constant attempts to invade which `markets', aka capital, are bound to make.
This is a richly researched, well structured, beautifully written and compellingly argued book, and one which offers an original analysis of the hegemonic politics of markets. It could not be more relevant to our times. Buy this book, but do not add it to the gently groaning shelf. Keep it much closer to hand; read, reflect and act on it.