Monday, 16 February 2015

Business fundamentalists

Business is the bed-rock of any economy. I grant that, by all means. However, what we find now is a certain type of what I call business fundamentalist who goes further. A business fundamentalist would say that business dictates the economy. The role of the state should be minimised to its most basic core - to restore law/order, policing and to protect the country from foreign attack. States do not determine anything. On the contrary, markets control the economy.

What we are increasingly finding with this creed is that they want to apply business strategies to all practices and discourses. Now, I understand that if you have a company you might want to use strategies to sell clocks, furniture, food, etc. etc. What I think should not happen is what currently takes place - the marketisation of public services. In addition to this, many public services (the railways, the postal services) get privatised and become another competitor in the market.

Although the NHS is a public institution, it does very much feel like a private enterprise. If I want to book an appointment (I seldom do because I have a chronic fear of doctors, but that's beside the point), I have to ring up before 9am in the morning and no later. A public service like the NHS should be open at all times to take on all inquiries. Although it is a public service, it very much feel like it works under free market lines. Although it is free, the way appointments are scheduled and the way rotas work, it is organised like a business.

The same applies to education. Students are taught to pass exams so as to boost the rankings of the school. Teachers are encouraged to follow the curriculum and to divagate as little as possible from it. Higher education is in an even sorrier state. Universities are effectively shopping centres. They charge astronomical fees - the current fee is £9,000 - and is now effectively private. Despite these fees, they often deliver courses that are substandard. They seem to have clubs and dance halls than libraries stocking books. (To be honest, I find it mind-boggling why a university needs a club or a dance hall - try to telling that to the next guy you see here.) Universities should be imparting wisdom and knowledge. Instead in their little course descriptions, they write about all these 'skills' you will acquire for the workplace. A presentation in a seminar is less about the creative inquiry and discussion than a grooming for your next pep talk at your first business. There are more and more business courses at universities - I would insist that they have no place on a university campus. Instead of teaching classics and grounding you in critical thinking, universities principally drill you with all these business strategies and 'skills'.

The 'business fundamentalist' is getting away with a lot and he knows it. I am not an admirer of Miliband, but I think he has every right to take on vested interests. It's mind-boggling when Miliband castigates corporations for dodging tax that the Labour is branded as 'anti-business.' Since when have the Labour party taken such a stand? It is not acceptable for business conglomerates to base their premises in Luxemborg and not to pay tax. It is even less acceptable for Conservative politicians like Lord Fink, and other protegees surrounding Cameron, to keep bank accounts in Switzerland and avoid tax. Miliband has every right to take on these vested interests. By doing so, he is not being 'anti-business.' He is only  labelled as such because papers like The Times and The Daily Telegraph support the Conservatives. It sounds like its heresy when he is pointing out the obvious. It is mind-boggling how everyone bears the brunt of austerity whilst major corporations and major politicians open up these Swiss bank accounts to avoid tax.

As I said before, a thriving business is the bed-rock of any economy. It should stop there. Business surreptitiously poisons anything else. I find that the marketisation of the arts is also having a malign effect. (Compare this with publicly funded art and see where the difference lies.) A businessman knows nothing about engineering, so why should he pontificate to an engineer about the design of something. It is almost as the businessman thinks that everything is within his means. Everything is being debased for the contemptible need to amass more and more capital.


Liam said...

I think you're a good example of a conservative left winger. You take for granted the traditional lines between economy and state, even though they are historically shallow and parochial, and you justify your hatred of the pro market people by saying that they are crossing sacred lines between, say, education and "the economy." The economy obviously includes education since ever pencil sharpener must be paid for with real money, so this is not a natural dichotomy. I think there are certain arguments for keeping certain institution "pure" from unseemly market influence in certain regards, but they shouldn't be kept pure for the sake of a budgetary tradition. My own view is that our institutions should be run competently, and there's as much a threat from inflated and mediocre government bureaucracies as there is from cynical and corrupt investors. Both are incompetent, and both steal from the public weal.

Simon King said...

If I have understood you correctly, I take pride in being called 'a conservative left winger.' There are elements of classical conservatism that I like - especially socially - whilst I generally espouse progressive/lefty causes. If on the other hand, you mean that I am an old fashioned lefty who doesn't go for a more modern variety of leftism, that doesn't bother me either. I identify with Old Labour. I have never heard the term 'conservative leftism' before - I like the ring of it, though. I goggled it, but found nothing.

I wouldn't necessarily say that all public services must be publicly funded and that anything privately funded is a travesty. That would seem needlessly dogmatic. I think that business strategies shouldn't interfere with the delivery of public services (or, at least, what traditionally would be considered public services). Hence, they get marketised. That's a seriously depressing tendency I find in this country. (In my 'other' country, Chile, where this kind of market fervour was first exported to, it's only worse). In education, wherever the funding comes from, I don't think that you should be 'selling' ideas to students. I don't think that schools should compete with one another to be better. The same would go for health care - I don't think that those kind of strategies should be used when your life might well be at stake. Nor do I think that competition in this sector is desirable. So, regardless of public or private ownership, I think that it's good to retain socialistic principles when delivering what would traditionally be called public services: education, health care and public utilities.