At The Financial Times: Martin Wolf attacks Jeremy Corbyn. Committed Observer comments

Consider three key paragraphs in Mr. Wolf’s Anti-Corbyn polemic:

The leader of the UK Labour party has already had a disastrous economic impact, by making the Brexit referendum result far more likely. He cannot just say, as he did in his speech to the party conference last week, that, “As democratic socialists, we accept and respect the referendum result”, as if he had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Wolf is one of The Elite that the British populous is ‘rebelling against’, this a tag line manufactured by his newspaper. The Referendum, and the second vote called by May, have only increased Mr. Corbyn’s support with the voters! Its called a called a Democracy for a reason : will of the people – they have made a clear choice. Mr. Wolf and his EU allies can only hector and propagandize from the sidelines.

Why has European social democracy been such a success? The answer is that it understands the fundamental constraints that have to shape any successful programme, particularly for a party that believes in active government. First, it must avoid the lure of magical thinking on budget constraints, at all levels of government. Resources are always limited. Second, it must recognise the crucial role of incentives in shaping human behaviour. Third, it must fully internalise the importance of a stable institutional framework in guiding these incentives. Last, it must understand that the private sector, foreign as well as domestic, must play a leading role in the economy.

Mr. Corbyn is a ‘Left Wing Social Democrat’ in a British tradition dating from February 1900. Mr. Tony Blair Neo-Liberalized the Party as a kind of ersatz ‘Third Way’ politics. Think of Blair’s political re-invention of the Labour Party as a tarted up Thatcherism.  Note that the ‘constraints’ that Mr. Wolf makes one of the central claims of his essay were, and have been, attacked and dismantled by both the Tories and New Labour. The proof of this is the Depression of 2008! Where was that stable institutional framework ?

The question is what they would do with it in dealing with the challenges confronting a country irretrievably embedded in the global market economy. The proposals for rent controls and the abolition of university tuition fees do not bode well: these are classic populist gestures. Nor does the confusion over Brexit. It is time to ask whether Mr Corbyn’s Labour will turn dreams into reality or nightmares.

The Populists in their various iterations, become the rhetorical prefix of choice, as a manifestation of political irrationalism. Note too, that rent control and free university tuition, would be perfectly legitimate aspirations, in a politics not so corrupted by the utterly bankrupt Market Exceptionalism of Hayek, interpreted by Thatcher, Blair and now Wolf.

I have to add one more thought. Mr. Wolf almost comes to the realization of the why of the rise of the Populists. These two sentences present a lost opportunity for Mr. Wolf,  to think outside the Free Market paradigm: the toxic mix of bourgeois political respectability and ideology prevent such a realization.

Public dismay has long been growing over the post-crisis stagnation in living standards, prolonged fiscal austerity, high house prices, relatively high inequality and generational and regional divides. Nor can one possibly forget the shock of the financial crisis or the stagnation in productivity that followed it.

Committed Observer

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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