Owen Jones started in the introduction on how the elite condemns ‘socialism’ but capitalism when closely observe is in fact socialism. The difference is, it is a kind of ‘socialism for the rich’. Where the state funding is used to subsidized and help business, which in the end gave benefit to the super-rich. When the state funding being used to help people at the bottom, ‘socialism’ is used, with a negative connotation. The attack is targeted to immigrant, public claimant and public servants.
Jones analysis on what is the Establishment, includes not only people with the power but also people around it, without which the system cannot be sustained. The establishment is not about a few corrupt people, but it’s a system, he argues that although the party who form government changed, the policy hardy deviates from what has been accepted of The Establishment’s idea and policies. Changing the people in it argues Jones, will not solve the problem.
He started his analysis on the post-war Britain, where the country ideas were largely dominated by the left, and trade union is a mighty force to reckon with. Back then even the conservatives fighting the election using policies which years before ‘associated with the left’. The game changed with what Jones called ‘The Outriders’. They were peoples with free-market ideology, pro-business and pro-privatization. They formed multiple think tank, which seems as a neutral organization, publishing report and studies to proliferate their idea. They are responsible to shift public opinion to accept the free market ideology and provide fundamentals for future free-market practical policies.
One of the Outriders, the think tank, was Adam Smith Institute, which was founded by Madsen Pirie. Their mission is to throw out the old establishment and found a new one based on free-market ideas. They transform abstract ideas into practical policies, convinced politicians to adopt them, and help them get re-elected. But something was needed to trigger the shift, as Milton Friedman spilled it out ‘Only crisis-actual or perceived produced real change.’ And as it turns out, in the min 1970, the ‘oil-price shock’ came in, and inflation surged. The crisis gave them an opportunity to paint that the political left has failed, the outriders work hand in hand with the Tories to installed Thatcherism – privatization, deregulation and slashing tax for corporations and the rich. They pushed the boundaries of what is seen as politically feasible and popularized the idea of free-market. The groups of these kinds market themselves as people’s voice, neutral and non-bias, while in reality, they are the right-wing organization pushing for their economic and political ideology. Jones also wrote on how the think tank shifted the ‘Overton Window’ – which is what is seen as politically reasonable and practical. The free market idea dominates universities and scholar who did not subscribe to the idea becomes isolated.
Then Jones comes to touch on the issue of the politicians in Westminster. He criticized how Blair after assuming power on labor’s ticket, did not reverse Thatcherism but embraced it as the new normal. When Gordon Brown contested his post, promising a comeback on Labour’s ideal – he managed to assume the premiership but also did not deviate from the free market policies. In fact, as argued by Jones, Brown continue with the privatization and slashing corporate tax. So, it’s not the question of who is the government, but who is the government serving to? The answer is corporate business and multi-national companies. There are a few factors for this, including a strong corporate lobby, revolving doors between political world and business world, which in the end shift the politician’s fight to defend corporate interest.
Then, there are the media. The propaganda machine used by its wealthy owners to defend their wealth and pushed for economic policies which are favorable to their business at the same time destroying communities and environment. Apart from ownership, the media also have become a party for the rich. For example, people aspired to be journalist need to start as an unpaid intern which only possible if you had a financial backing from your parent, also as the competition grow, postgraduate degree has become a ticket for entry.
Then, there is the police. The institution that supposed to protect civilians, but instead used to crushed dissent. Jones brought historical account such as Orgreave and Hillsborough. Where the police used cover-up, fabricated evidence, and propaganda. Jones wrote on how Thatcher bought the police’s loyalty. He also exposed how the police used a method known as kettling – which concentrate protester into a small compound to reap violence, which will give the police the reason to charge. He also wrote on how racism has rooted deep in the police’s institution.
The core idea of modern capitalism is that Big Government is hampering the business, webs of regulation and state intervention caused the market to become less effective, the market needs to be left for itself and self-regulate. On contrary, Jones argued that this idea is a con. The business is highly dependent on the state. It needs the police to protect their property, regulation to protect their intellectual property, and more importantly, the vast amount of taxpayer money to produce university-graduate-workforce. Without all these, the business can barely survive. The financial crisis in 2007-2008 was a practical proof on how disastrous it is when the market is left to self-regulate. In the end, the state comes in and bail out the bank, costing an astronomical amount of taxpayer money, while the banker’s dividends and bonuses remain intact. The loss was paid by the people while the profit was privatized – socialism for the rich. At the end part of the book, Jones argued on how the US and EU are undermining the British democracy. On how Blair commit Britain to war in Iraq without UN resolution and the public supports to appease the American.
The book concluded with a call for a democratic revolution and called to reject the idea of “there are no alternatives”. Jones also explained that rejecting free market does not mean statism, contrary to binary thinking, there are a lot of policies that can be improved which gave people much more decent life without hampering the economy. Granting workers more secure positions will bring about quality work and quality life at the same time. He also argues that Britain need to be in the forefront to divest from polluting economy and become a market leader in the green economy. Finally, the book ends with a beautiful saying from the late Frederick Douglass.
This article is a review of ‘The Establishment and how they get away with it’ by Owen Jones.
Author of several books including Berfikir Tentang Pemikiran. Fathi write from his home at Sungai Petani, Kedah. He like to read and sleep.