Neoliberalism is Incompatible with Better Policy

The following is one of those ideas that sounds very much necessary and would do a great deal of good but has no chance of being implemented unilaterally by any country:

“A thinktank, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which has organised the event with the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, argues that if everyone worked fewer hours – say, 20 or so a week – there would be more jobs to go round, employees could spend more time with their families and energy-hungry excess consumption would be curbed. Anna Coote, of NEF, said: ‘There’s a great disequilibrium between people who have got too much paid work, and those who have got too little or none.'”

With chronic unemployment across the West, particularly among youths, reducing hours to create more job positions sounds highly rational. Instead, we have work hours being extended in Portugal, not reduced, giving employers the same amount of laborers to work additional unpaid hours. How is this supposed to motivate employers to hire new workers, let alone create the economic demand that leads to job creation? It won’t and can’t.

Policy is being driven entirely by ideology. It might even be better called mythology than ideology. It’s nonsense that says pain will in the end lead to pleasure. By punishing oneself -and oneself deosn’t truly apply since the policy makers spare themselves of the “shared sacrifices”– you will have demonstrated your faith in the markets and the markets will reward you by restoring “confidence”. The problem is the markets don’t operate by this mythology. They’ve read the austerity program in Europe and see it for what it is: a self inflicted recession. It’s why Italian ten bond yields remain at or above 7%, exactly where they were before the austerity package.

But there’s more to this than the absurdity of policies centered on economic pain. It’s the supremacy of the markets over the state that effectively rules out a policy like the one I began my post with. The market is beyond one state’s ability to set a common standard upon. The U.K. imposing this 20 hour work week would, in fact, make the economy unable to “compete” because no other country would be operating under the same standard. It’s not that the policy wouldn’t work and wouldn’t bring about a better existence for people. The problem is that the market is beyond any mechanism that could establish socially justice standards as a starting point for market activity.

Under these circumstances, we’ve inevitably found ourselves with economic imbalances. On one end, there’s this pursuit for the lowest common denominator in labor and environmental standards as countries inevitable lose and seek to regain their status as “competitive”. On the other end, there’s the escalating compensation on Wall Street to attract business executives who can best exploit this incoherent model that is failing so many around the globe. It is imperative, then, to meet a globalized capitalist model running unrestrained with a globalized social struggle that with enough conviction can see workers in both Bangladesh and the United Kingdom working less hours in countries with less unemployment.

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2 responses to “Neoliberalism is Incompatible with Better Policy”

  1. swissecon says :

    I agree with you. Policy should be guided by facts rather than by ideology.

    But where is your hard evidence that reduced work hours lead to lower unemployment figures? And would you like to see the government enforcing a 20-hour week? Or should people decide on their own about how much they would like to work?

  2. fouryawkeyway says :

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/jan/08/cut-working-week-urges-thinktank?CMP=SOCNETTXT6965

    Unfortunately, haven’t been able to come up with the full report (and more important it’s figures) but here’s the article on the report.

    But as someone who’s not an economist, the point I was aiming for was less so about that one policy and more about the inability for any alternative to penetrate our political system.

    One policy like this one advocated for by the New Economics Foundation isn’t crucial. What is crucial are policies that improve standards of living which are essentially impossible to implement in a global market place that demands increased competition, competition being achieved by workers working longer hours for less.

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