Friday, April 27, 2012

The "evil state" vs "virtuous private sector" false duality

The private company National Express demonstrated
the "virtues" of the private sector by bailing out of the
East Coast Mainline franchise, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill.
The state vs private false duality is the long standing right-wing position that "the state" is evil and that the only way that "we" can be freed from the "tyranny" of government is to reduce the size of "the state". The argument is usually expressed in defence of ideologically driven neoliberalisation strategies such as the dismantling of welfare provision or the privatisation of state assets (of the kind that may either generate a profit or be profitably asset stripped) to the supposedly virtuous corporate sector.

The first and most obvious problem with the argument is the fact that it relies on oversimplification, the facile "good vs evil" argument. There is no room for nuance in the world of right-wing propaganda. Upon any kind of examination it becomes clear that "the state is inherently bad" and "the private sector is inherently good" are false premises. There are countless examples of positive state interventions (the provision of universal education, and the prevention of child labour being two that are particularly difficult to contradict). There are even more examples of private sector immorality (the massive scale of corporate tax dodging, systematic fraud against their own customers, bribery, toxic waste dumping, executive greed at a time of "austerity", use of mandatory unpaid slave labour through Workfare,  jumping out of unprofitable contracts leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill....). Anyone espousing such facile "black and white view" conceptions of government and the private sector must either be a fool or a propagandist.

For the proponent to espouse such oversimplified arguments they must be using the ignoring the facts strategy. Since the 1970s the size of the state has shrunk dramatically with huge state industries sold off to the private sector (oil, gas, coal, steel, aviation, rail, water) and state services outsourced (diverse functions of local government, school meals, forensic science, court translation, PFI scams to name but a few) yet the living standards of ordinary working people have fallen dramatically since this process began. Wages have been stagnating for decades, pensions have been repeatedly attacked, the retirement age has been increased, personal debt levels have grown enormously and most families need both parents to work in order to make ends meet. If the "evil state" is so bad, why have things been getting so much worse for ordinary working people since the neoliberals began dismantling it?

When you come across the state vs private false duality argument, you may notice that the proponent uses the strategy of cloaking in emotive language, using negative words and phrases like the "parasitic" state, the taxpayer's "burden", welfare "scroungers" the "tyranny" of the state. The emotive appeal strategy is also used when the blame the victim fallacy is invoked as "evidence" that the state is bad. A typical example of "blame the victim" would be the accusation that the state encourages people to become unemployed "welfare scroungers" by paying unemployment benefits, without any consideration of the fact that huge numbers of people are made unemployed when their supposedly virtuous private sector employers decide to increase company profitability by sacking their local workforce and replacing them with much cheaper third world labour or simply sacking everyone and asset stripping the business.

Another indicator of a fallacious argument is the tactic of speaking on behalf of the majority. This strategy relies on the casual assertion that the proponent's argument has the backing of the majority through strategic use of the words "we" and "us". Speaking on behalf of the majority is a technique closely associated with far-right extremism, the 20th Century fascist movements used it to defend their ethnic cleansing policies and the modern day far-right use it to speak out against Muslim communities. Whenever you hear anyone speaking on behalf of the majority without a great deal of reliable statistical data to back up their assertions, you should be extremely wary of their agenda.

As with many right wing arguments,
the state vs private false duality relies
heavily Joseph Goebells' big lie strategy.
Returning to the initial criticism of oversimplification, one of the most fundamental flaws in the state vs private duality is that the state and the private sector are intricately linked together through the private vested interests of countless politicians, the secondment of corporate staff to political parties, the lobbying industry, corporate junketing, huge state subsidies and outsourcing contracts, hundreds of billions worth of PFI scams and joint "diplomatic trade missions" to sell weapons to third world countries. Under the neoliberal political system many politicians see their time in politics simply as a stepping stone to further riches, designing policy to curry favour from corporate interests in the form of boardroom positions or lucrative "advisory roles" to supplement their bloated government pensions.

If we are to allow blatant oversimplifications, a more accurate one would be a symbiotic establishment relationship between government and the private sector, working jointly to undermine the rights and conditions of ordinary working people.

As with most right wing nonsense, the state vs private duality relies on the strategy of argument by repetition, otherwise known as the big lie technique, a strategy described by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels as "when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it" and that "if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it".

The state vs private duality has been repeated so often that it has become an unquestionable truism to the right wing media and the orthodox neoliberal political establishment. The casual assumption that the private sector is better than the state forms the foundation stones of countless other lame right-wing arguments, including the parasitic state argument, the golden hammer of neoliberalism, the unavoidable austerity position, the myth of private sector efficiency and the great neoliberal lie.
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