The pandemic continues to serve up illuminating examples of the mindset of worried neoliberals, who fear they are watching the gains of the last 30 years crumbling before their eyes.
Not merely have governments of all stripes been forced to embrace truly historic deficit spending to prop up their economies and hand-hold entire industries, but borders have been shut the world over, temporarily closing down the immigration that is fundamental to neoliberal economics and raising the possibility that the temporary migrants on whom so many industries rely to keep wage costs down will vanish.
Now Australia’s increasingly testy relationship with China is alarming neoliberals and big business figures who worry that national security might be elevated above corporate profits in the minds of policymakers.
A reliable guide to the rising panic among neoliberals and business interests is the editorial page of The Australian Financial Review, where Michael Stutchbury has issued increasingly hysterical demands that the pandemic be used to implement a hardline, more purified form of neoliberalism.
This involves not merely a return to WorkChoices and a deregulatory program that would restore the era of corporate gouging that characterised the last decade, but cuts to company tax for large corporations.
Hilariously, Stutchbury dresses this divisive program up as a “the Team Australia tax, workplace and red tape reform agenda”, rather than a Team Big Business agenda for higher shareholder returns, lower wages and more bitter community resentment of business of the kind that the Business Council has been whingeing about for several years.
Earlier this week, Labor’s Kristina Keneally was judged guilty of not playing properly with Team Australia when she questioned the future of temporary migration.
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(The fact that Keneally was also criticised from the left in today’s Nine papers illustrates how temporary migration unites some odd bedfellows in big business and “let them all come” open borders sentimentalists).
Today, however, it’s the national security establishment, and its fears about China, that have alarmed the AFR, with Stutchbury railing against “security hawks” who have gotten “tangled up in the culture war against the market”.
This again shows the overlooked — because inconvenient for both the left and the right — point about just how hostile neoliberalism is to national sovereignty.
Sovereignty is a pointless impediment to the smooth flow of money, goods and services, and workers to wherever they can maximise their economic value, a product of the nationalist delusions of communities who foolishly link their identities not to their economic interests but to where they live, the colour of their skin or the people they live with.
From the neoliberal’s point of view, not merely should Australia fully open its borders to unfettered movement, but it should subordinate its national security interests, even its sovereignty, to the market place and the cause of maximising economic value.
This is despite the pandemic revealing that supply chains for essentials are far more fragile than assumed, and that offshoring of manufacturing — which has delivered enormous benefits in terms of lower costs for Australian consumers over the last three decades — has also left us vulnerable to shortages during a global crisis.
The pandemic has also exposed the problem of industries that over-rely on China, particularly higher education, where thousands of jobs have been lost.
And China itself has made clear that it will punish Australia economically for failing to behave in accordance with Beijing’s diktats. Academic, diplomatic and business representatives of Australia’s China lobby here have all rushed to reinforce Beijing’s message — usually in the pages of the AFR, where op-eds from China appeasers and apologists are routine fare.
In three different ways, the pandemic has thus served to illustrate exactly the risks of over-reliance on China.
It has also demonstrated how Australia’s economic interests are bound up with taking a more critical approach to the Beijing regime.
The Chinese government significantly exacerbated the pandemic by initially engaging in a cover-up of it and influencing the World Health Organisation to downplay it.
It has thus played a significant role in inflicting the unfolding economic catastrophe on Australia and the rest of the world.
It is in Australia’s economic and security interests to avoid such a fate when the next pandemic inevitably occurs — which can only be addressed through an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus, something that leaves the China lobby aghast.
Despite the AFR pretending to be a kind Team Australia Gazette, in fact it’s in a small minority of economic hardliners who want to subordinate everything else — national security, workers’ pay and conditions, consumers’ rights, sovereignty — to unfettered markets.
As it turns out, that would also have damaging economic consequences for Australia.
Are businesses and the media putting national security behind economic growth? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s new Your Say section.