The new flat earthers: barbarism begins at home

The parody of the earnest left-wing ideologue has become defunct in light of the triumphs of the dogma of market fundamentalism. But in a context of the UK's culture of relentless financialisation it is time to re-imagine the energy of such caricature, deploying its power to undermine the proponents of this system. 

Once upon a time the world was filled with earnest left-wing revolutionaries confident that they were the future.

They inhabited places like the Sorbonne, Berkeley and LSE campuses and thought they spoke for all humanity leading to a whole generation being caricatured as ‘Private Eye’ character ‘Dave Spart’, ‘television sit-com Citizen Smith’ and the propensity for endless ideological schisms seen in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’.

All these stereotypes are now many decades old but they still carry some currency because they hit a truth; most left-wingers if they are honest will recognise their inner ‘Dave Spart’.

This is despite the fact that the left has been in retreat for the last 30 years, and that the equivalent Dave Sparts of today are the dogmatic, fanatical, humourless zealots of the free market. It is they who have tried to change human beings, behaviour and relationships to suit their simplistic theories.

After three decades of market fundamentalism across the West, the world is richer and wealthier than it ever has been, but not happier or more secure. We have seen an explosion of financial remuneration, excess and celebration these past three decades, as new empires and concentrations of global power emerge, and yet, once you have fed the monster, it wants more.

The inexorable rightward drift of British politics and society was signalled this week by a number of developments. There was the publication of the Beescroft report, commissioned by the Cameron government, which proposed that the solution to recovery was making it easier to ‘hire and fire’ workers.

Although trashed by the Lib Dems, the fact this is being considered and brought centrestage is indicative of such proposals being taking seriously, despite zero evidence for the need for such a policy. An OECD study of 40 countries found the UK had the third weakest employment protection laws with only the US and Canada weaker. Tory MPs cited anecdotal evidence that the suggestions were commonsense.

More significant was the publication of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and Institute of Directors 2020 Tax Commission. This was a 417 page report brought together by 19 commissioners, 18 of them men and a single woman.

The report argues for a reduction of the UK state from 48% of GDP to 33%, a single tax rate of 30% income tax, abolition of inheritance tax and stamp duty, and replacement of corporation tax by a tax on distributed income from capital.

Allister Heath, editor of ‘City A.M.’ chaired the commission and claimed that it offered ‘the simplest, fairest, most economically efficient and transparent tax system possible’, stopping the injustice of double and triple taxation, while making little comment on widespread corporate and super-rich tax evasion (which is of course the fault of punitive state taxation).

The Tax Commission may be ridiculed by some but it represents the direction of Anglo-American capitalism in recent times. Not just the encouragement, but veneration, of the super-rich and corporate, quasi-monopoly capitalism, and the shifting of taxation to lessen the burden on these broad, powerful and rather vocal shoulders, and placing it on middle and lower incomes. All in the name of fairness, freedom and economic growth. Who could argue with that!

The same week saw a seemingly unrelated development - a website launched to link up rich ‘sugar daddies’ with consenting UK ‘sugar babes’. Already 80,000 British people are supposedly signed up, many of the women citing that why should anyone judge their morals and that this is a perfectly legitimate way to earn a living.

Such an arrangement appears to defeat the whole point of a civilised society, of shared moral codes, and instead, mirrors what Michael Sandel described in ‘What Money Can’t Buy’ - a world where human relationships, every space and every relationship are viewed as commodities, and things for exchange and monetarising.

This is further seen in the emergence of queue hopping in the States whereby rich folk hire poor people through an agency to stand in line for the theatre or an event for them. Or the people in New Zealand who are quite happy to rent the space on their forehead to advertisers. Why waste that space on your head which isn’t doing anything when you could be earning big bucks!

Sandel argues that market relationships have their place but they also have unintended consequences, in crowding out and undermining non-market relationships and bonds based on trust and reciprocity.

Thirty years on, the marketising counter-revolution hasn’t produced the brave new world it promised. This doesn’t matter to the new radicals, as evidence isn’t what the flat tax, flat earthers are about. Beecroft wasn’t interested in facts. The Tax Commission’s report does not draw from serious examples or evidence. That is because they believe that human behaviour corresponds to their view of the world; we are competitive, short-termist, selfish and ill-desposed to be co-operative and trusting of others.

In short, we are facing a narrow, nasty dogma which isn’t interested in how the world is, but believes it sees clearly how things should be. The state, social protection, rights and responsibilities need to be stripped back to the minimum.

The Maoists of the free market revolution have brought about a cultural and political transformation their Marxist predecessors would have been proud of. Everything is up for a price; there are no such things as ‘public goods’, health, education, water, blood and air. The Blair Government, under left-wing Overseas Development Minister Claire Short, even sponsored water privatisation plans in 28 African countries.

We are not going to defeat this fanatical dogma by facts or careful, calm, rational argument. One way in which we can begin to undermine it is to remember the example of Dave Spart.

In short, we need to imagine the revolutionary cheerleaders of today’s marketising orthodoxies, name them inventing fictitious characters, give them lives and stories, and mercilessly caricature them, and poke fun at their humourless, loveless, soulless world.

That would be the beginning of the counter-attack, and if the Scottish independence debate launched on Friday is to have any real substance, it will have to find a voice about the marketeers’ anti-vision. Not having a view isn’t an option in trying to build a ‘Big Tent’ coalition.

Let us create our own equivalent modern day Dave Sparts. The consultant who talks impenetrable jargon, the public official who has forgotten they are meant to be about ‘public service’, or the predatory capitalist wheeler and dealer who makes money asset stripping and creates no new businesses or value.

The age we are living in, of corporate claptrap, jargon, deceit and complicity, is ripe for satire, fun and the start of a new kind of resistance. What have we to lose but our chains? 

About the author
Gerry Hassan is Research Fellow in cultural policy at the University of the West of Scotland who has recently been awarded his PhD on political and cultural contemporary debate in the public sphere of Scotland. Gerry is the author and editor of numerous books including ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’ and the just published 'After Independence' (co-edited with James Mitchell). His 'Caledonian Dreaming: The Quest for a Different Scotland' was published in April 2014. His website is: www.gerry.hassan.com