Britain's Brezhnev-style capitalism

On Potlatch Britain's Brezhnev-style capitalism
Earlier this week, I happened to hear an old NYLON friend, Suzi Hall, speaking about her work on the LSE Ordinary Streets project, which is carrying out a close ethnographic and economic analysis of the Peckham Rye Lane area of London, including interviews with hundreds of shopkeepers. The work sounds like a brilliant example of what an anthropological sensibility can bring to the understanding of urban economic life.

She compared Peckham Rye to Stratford Westfield, in terms of numbers of businesses and the employment generated. While Westfield was sold as a local regenerator and job creator, Peckham Rye Lane's economy of ethnically diverse small-holders is eyed suspiciously by policy-makers as an apparent blockage to economic development. Plans are afoot to help chains move into the street as a step towards 'regeneration'. Yet Suzi reported that, while Westfield Stratford had duly delivered its promised 8,000 jobs, Peckham Rye Lane's local market was already a source of 13,000, via a far greater number of businesses. This is aside from the webs of social networks that accompany an 'embedded' market economy, in contrast to identikit businesses that are taking over most highstreets.

The notion that in an age of shrinking social security, policy-makers might view such a street as anything other than an irreplaceable socio-economic benefit is just bizarre. Why such government suspicion of the market? In contrast to the known quantity of WH Smiths, it probably appears dangerously opaque to the local council, but only because of the myopic tools of transparency and surveillance that are in use. A different gaze, such as that practiced by Suzi and her colleagues, would reveal things differently. The blind fear of the migrant (or even second or third generation migrant) converts economic liberty from the asset that Adam Smith portrayed it as, to a risk that requires costly management. And when it comes to mitigting the risks associated with individual freedom, the Chinese political model will always 'out-perform' ours...

In his recent On Critique, Luc Boltanski argues that repetition becomes the key trope of political actors who seek to avoid moments of critical or objective judgement. Words are recited, truths are repeatedly affirmed, routines are performed repeatedly, for fear that otherwise questions might be asked. This is different from, say, a company audit or an evaluation, in which there is a ritualistic element to it, but the outcome is unknown, unless it has become corrupted in some way. My feeling is (and I discuss this in a book I'm just finishing) that neoliberalism has entered a post-critical, repetitive phase, in which certain things have to be spoken - delivery, efficiency, security, competitiveness - but in order to hold the edifice together, rather than to reveal anything as objectively 'delivered', 'efficient', 'secure' or 'competitive. Political systems which do not create space for critique encounter this need for mandatory repetition immediately, as occurred to state socialism.

Neoliberalism was a political system in which the world was put to the test in some way, it was simply that the tests employed were those which privileged price and entrepreneurial energy. I don't want to defend this form of testing, which is often cynical, bullying and depressingly unsympathetic to other valuation systems. But there was often some consistency about it and the capacity for an unexpected outcome (for instance, that local economic diversity might be revealed to be more fiscally efficient). Look at Westfield today, however, and you see an economic culture being repeated, without any sincere sense that this represents 'choice', 'efficiency' or 'regeneration', nor any sense that things might have turned out differently even if this had been known. The point becomes to name this as 'efficient' and that (e.g. Peckham Rye Lane) as 'inefficient', and try and avoid or suppress evidence to the contrary. The fear arises that provable efficiency might involve abandoning one set of power structures in favour of another. And so economics becomes a naming ceremony, not a test.

Eastern bloc socialism had to keep going through the 1970s and 80s, inspite of lagging growth and failed ideological hegemony, because nobody knew what else to do. This is the stage neoliberal policy-making has now reached. The difference is that there is still one area of our economy that is still moving and changing, namely the money economy, with corporate profits high and financial innovation ongoing. What seems to have changed, post-2008, is that the price paid for this monetary dynamism is that the rest of us all have to stand completely still. In order that 'they' in the banks can cling on to their modernity of liquidity and ultra-fast turnover, 'we' outside have to relinquish our modernity, of a future that is any different from the present. Finance is to our stagnant societies what the space race and the Cold War were to the Eastern Bloc countries of the 1970s and 80s - a huge cost that the state imposes on its public, with the result that cities and economies start to become tedious processions of the same.
My bold, yes why the loathing of traditional British free market capitalism at it's messy business? You could just call it the same march of modernity that tore up the branch lines, bulldozed terraces and built tower blocks or shutdown mines and went to gas.

It's also about what sort of country do you want? A nation of grumpy small shopkeepers, a bit dusky perhaps but very much how not so merry olde England once was, or the lumbering blandness of Tesco, Aldi and Lidl. Adam Smith might well have more affinity for the former and might compare the latter to the great state assisted merchant companies he abominated.

And this applies to much of the economy where the perks go to existing large actors while smaller companies trying to struggle up the ladder get their fingers stamped on. An ideologically one party state, whether led by Dave or an Ed with its favored corporate fellow travelers.

We all know who
tomorrow belongs to, it a shared assumption not confined to the political elite. It's plain to see who lobbies for and receives competitive advantage and who a population too lazy to walk from shop to shop favors. So the consumer society waddles towards increasing conformity clutching to its heart a Three-For-One pack of own brand horse lasagne. And that is really the shrunken lonely soul of the place.

There is something of the late Soviet era here, lots more bright and shiny baubles and far less queueing.
I do very much like reading your stuff, Alib. It's always though-provoking. Thank you.
Yes, it is interesting - and as a staunch Tory, I find it bizarre that we would rather have megalithic multi-national chains squeezing wages and minimising tax liabilities, than a multitude of niche specialists who, whilst they might do the odd 'cash transaction' probably pay more tax than (certainly) Vodafone AND keep a community alive.
I think this is something both parties have lost touch with.

The corporatist Tories at least have had leaders like Heath, Thatcher and Major all came from a background of a family small business. The last two clearly had some empathy with the lower reaches of the middle class. Dave on the other hand is the son of a Stock Broker and JP, not just an Old Etonian for God sake he's a descendant of William IV. Gorgeous George Gideon Oliver Osborne, is the son of a Baronet who did dabble in "Trade". He founded [FONT=arial, helvetica, sans-serif]Osborne & Little, a desperately posh wall paper and fabric group, that does not like paying No 11's taxes one bit.[/FONT]

New Labor while busily making fat cats purr and entirely comfortable snorting Beluga with thick necked Russian oligarchs was always rather suspicious of small business. Despite his patrician education and communist turned Tory barrister father there's a grocery shop in Blair's maternal line but Labour leaders sprung more from families with a works or pit in the background. Brown also has a mother whose family were in trade, timber merchants but it's his father's pulpit that he always looked back on.

No smear of trade attaches to the current Ed of the party. Milliband is the son of Polish Jewish asylum seekers. One a notable Marxist academic the other a human rights activist, I fear he was never destined to lead UKIP. The Ed in waiting had a grammar school hating Zoologist for a father, says it all really, went to public school and then like the other comprehensively educated Ed onto Oxbridge. Both Ed's like G&T before them lurve America, the first having spent some of his youth there and the other having dawdled as a teaching fellow in the Department of Economics at Harvard.
From the same blog Santander 2013
This advertisement should be in the running for the Turner Prize.
It is one of the most unsettling pieces of film that I've ever seen, reducing advertising to a set of blank and bland facts, to be recited out of the mouths of an apparently arbitrary collection of sports stars. What are the celebrities doing in other people's houses? Have they broken in illegally? Or are we to suppose that they are ghostly apparitions? The atmosphere of the ad is one of oppressive silence, like that of a family that has lost a member but refused to ever discuss it. It's difficult to know what is stranger: the fact that Jenson Button is standing behind someone's fridge door, dressed in his racing gear, or the fact that he is sharing tips on gas bills, or the strange resignation to all of this on the part of the man using the fridge. Jessica Ennis is represented as a sort of track-suit-clad bag lady, who bothers people in the street with unwanted - and almost certainly false - information. The ordinary people, trying to go about their days in peace and privacy, exude a sad resignation that capitalism now drops (real? hallucinatory?) celebrities into their bathrooms and kitchens, to talk at them uninvited. If they could speak, what would they say? Their faces project fear and anxiety, as if they are now are trapped. Mostly they just want to be left the hell alone, to live, walk and paint; but this is the wish that sport, finance and above all advertising clearly will not grant. Is this a warning of some kind?
Truly a Orwellian Sign Of The Times, a haunting by sporting celebs offering cash backs. I'm never going to look at a Santander bank the same, and not in a good way.
It just struck me what the tone in the Ad above reminded me of. There's a scene in the current season of Man Men where an increasingly depressed Don Draper pitches an Ad for Holidaying In Hawaii featuring a pile of clothes on the beach and footprints disappearing off into the sea. He then is perplexed that the client isn't in a similar frame of mind to actually find that attractive. Things must be pretty bad at Santander HQ.
From the same blog Santander 2013
Truly a Orwellian Sign Of The Times, a haunting by sporting celebs offering cash backs. I'm never going to look at a Santander bank the same, and not in a good way.
Fascinating thread. Again ARRSE members provide thoughtful analysis... Did anyone else find the advert desperate, creepy and a little bit patronising? Does the golfer even worry about his mortgage as he raids the ladies fruit bowl? If I caught Jensen Button behind my fridge door, he would be cable-tied, hooded and gagged long before any financial advice could be offered.

Posted from the ARRSE Mobile app (iOS or Android)
Fascinating thread. Again ARRSE members provide thoughtful analysis... Did anyone else find the advert desperate, creepy and a little bit patronising? Does the golfer even worry about his mortgage as he raids the ladies fruit bowl? If I caught Jensen Button behind my fridge door, he would be cable-tied, hooded and gagged long before any financial advice could be offered.

Posted from the ARRSE Mobile app (iOS or Android)
Yes, I'd like to see him try combining apple theft with pimping for Santander in chez JJH.
I take it that the thrust behind the original piece is that Britain has become a very dull place because it is dominated by lumbering multi-nationals. Whilst this is partly true, it is worth noting that there are plenty of relatively new businesses that have grown from start up to significant market presence in recent time. Some of them have challenged and taken significant market share off the established big boys in the very commoditised service market place (I'm thinking Talk Talk, Utilities Warehouse, the rise of Morrison's from northern bit player etc etc). There is still plenty of space for entrepreneurism in the UK.

There is also a very diverse small business community in most of Britain's towns; just go along to a Chamber of Commerce meeting or any of the networking clubs to see how diverse the sector is. Many will only ever be salary businesses, paying wages for their owners and employees without ever growing and being genuinely profitable. So what?

As for politicians, there have been very few of any party over the years from a business background, be it small or large. Very few have run businesses, certainly not Thatcher, Major or Heath, let alone Blair & Brown. Of Thatcher's cabinet big beasts, only Heseltine was really a businessman. Nothing new there; very few business people ever want to go into politics.

Meanwhile I've complained to Santander; when I set up balance alerts on my account, but I get a text message. Bit disappointed I'm not being stalked by Jess Ennis.

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