February 12, 2014
The Abbott Government says that it stands for smaller government, lower taxes, and a budget surplus. There is a contradiction here because falling government revenue means ongoing budget deficits not surpluses. The commission of audit points heavily in the direction of austerity and increased social insecurity: downward mobility for the middle class and high joblessness, spreading job precarity for the post-industrial working class and the sharpening of inequality.
The Abbott Govt's position is that the above contradiction can be resolved by strengthening the economy, which in turn is to achieved by dumping the mining tax, doing away with carbon pricing, removing green tape, and lessening union power to remove unsustainable pay and conditions. The govt has done its job and the freewheeling market will work its magic: private enterprise will start investing and new jobs will be created.
It all sounds like the waving of the magic wand by the tooth fairy. The wand is called "open for business". The economic theory behind the waving of the ideological wand is that though the dynamic nature of capitalism is at times destructive, it is also vibrant and creative; capital and labour will be reallocated to higher-yielding uses.
An editorial in The Australian spells out the ideology of neo-liberalism:
governments do not create jobs, companies do. The private sector takes risks and workers prosper. The best thing his [Abbott's] government can do to support jobs is to pursue policies that promote economic growth. Getting the correct fiscal settings in the May budget will be a necessary but not sufficient condition to bolster growth. To show that the nation is really open for business, the Abbott government must continue to resist the rentseekers, reduce Canberra’s footprint in the economy and the power of unions, cut taxes and regulation, build the infrastructure the country needs and pursue market-based reforms. Through micro- and macro-economic policies dedicated to growth, displaced workers - in fruit canneries or car factories - will soon find new opportunities beyond the grim view they may now be contemplating.
Neo-liberal ideology is about the economy not society or community and the dismantling of the state in favour of the market. It is "market rules". The inference is that neoliberalism is an explicitly political project for reshaping society.
The neo-liberal mode of governance, as distinct from its ideology, and it requires a strong state with respect to the apparatus of prisons, police, defence and surveillance. Forms of imprisonment, disciplinary workfare, and behavioural modification of the urban outcasts increasingly takes the place of ‘welfare'.
In his keynote at the 2012 TASA (The Australian Sociological Association) Conference, French sociologist Loïc Wacquant argued that the neoliberal mode of governance is the building of a particular kind of state which has the return of the prison at its centre. This institutional machinery is used to manage the consequences of inequality at the bottom, for the life spaces and life chances of the precarious fractions of the postindustrial working class.