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Latham: Free economy, strong state « Previous | |Next »
February 2, 2004

Christopher Scanlon has a piece in The Age that addresses the concerns of the previous post. Given Latham's acceptance of the free market as a good to be fostered extended and encouraged, how does he deal with the political fallout from the bads (social dislocation) flowing from the normal workings of a deregulated market?

Chris suggests that Latham works in terms of Margaret Thatcher's free economy/strong state mode of governance. A strong state does not just refer to the national security state. It has a domestic dimension. With Thatcher it meant the following strategy of governance:

"As the government withdrew from regulating the market, it took an increasingly interventionist role in policing social life. This was usually done under the banner of protecting family values, and instituting draconian law and order policies, that were aimed particularly at those deemed surplus to the immediate requirements of the market (the young and unemployed, for example), and blaming the poor and infirm not only for their own plight, but for larger social ills as well. Increasing social surveillance and management were the order of the day."

Chris, like myself, detects socially authoritarian overtones to Latham's plan for a new portfolio of community relations to be charged with developing policies to combat loneliness, work stress and community breakdown. Social authoritarianism is the political term for the hard edge that I drew attention to in the previous post.

After rightly describing John Howard's mode of governing society as a socially authoritarian one, Chris says this mode is a consequence of neo-liberalism:

"Since nothing is to be permitted to impact on the free running of the economy, a stronger state is required to hold society together. If this means draconian and heavy-handed programs aimed at containing those who are no longer necessary to the economy, then so be it."

Howard's social authoritarian way of deal with those rejected from the free market is wrapped up in a package of mutual obligation, family values, populism and one nation conservatism. This cast Howard in the Thatcher mould.

And Latham? He thinks in terms of the duality of benign market and malign bureaucracy. Hence all the Third Way stuff about community responsibility, social capital and social entrepreneurship to deal with society. Will this duality soften Latham's latent social authoritarianism?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:21 AM | | Comments (2)


"containing those who are no longer necessary to the economy" - I hope that is not a literal statement of anyone's ideas. Still, they have been getting practice..

the language is tough, but it does capture the hard neo-liberal edge.

When I hear the remarks about the undeserving poor the image of the early 19th century Victorian poor house pops into my mind.

I am reminded of pre-welfare state political language when cutting unemployment benefits to a few months surface.

In other words the language is extreme but it captures that Thatcherite tone.