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March 14, 2013



As living standards fall and the current form of capitalism continues to fail increasing numbers of people, Left alternatives, when they are presented clearly, may well find fertile ground. The 1945 shift to the left is a case in point.

So the Left should continue to develop and argue for new ideas. Yes, the Overton Window can be shifted. The ASI and IEA can fool some of the people some of the time but they can't fool all the people all the time.

Luis Enrique

although this is little more than a guess, I'm not sure the success of Thatcherite revolution was just down to well organized capitalist having funded think tanks. My very weak grasp of UK history makes me think there was also a sense in which things were ripe for change, that there was popular dissatisfaction with the status-quo. This is an optimistic thought - aren't things similarly ripe for change today, but in a left wing direction? I would hope so.

If only the intellectual efforts of the left-wing were more impressive. I'm looking at you, NEF.


As Luis notes re 1979, intermittent elections give the impression of sudden shifts in sentiment, but these shifts are usually the result of underlying secular trends, rather than clever lobbying by thinktanks. The seeds of Thatcher's victory were sown during the Attlee years, notably after the nationalisation programme peaked in 1947.

Similarly, 1945 was not a sudden shift to the left (or welfarism, or state planning) but the culmination of a 45 year trend. By the time of the next general election, we will have experienced 8 years of "crisis", dated from the Northern Rock run in 2007, and 18 years since the "false dawn" of 1997.

Policies once-derided as unthinkable (i.e. outside the Overton window) are now discussed as credible options, albeit at different stages of acceptabibility, such as a citizens' basic income (radical), land value tax (acceptable), and a state investment bank (sensible).

I don't share Chris's pessimism. Many of the policies he categorised as supply-side socialism would deliver substantial gains for many people. As Thatcher showed with council house sales and tax cuts, it's tangible gains for the many (or enough) that deliver the power to implement policy, not covert gains for the few.


I agree that a shift to the left is always possible. In 1935 the idea that Atlee would sweep to power defeating churchill and Nationalise large parts of the economy would have seemed most unlikely. The war helped by showing that economic planning could be done and deliver gains. Also there was a concerted movement to Propagandise for socialist reforms. The opponents of right wing economic policies really need to build a popular movement for reforms rather than wait for the Labour leadership to invent spin to win elections. Regardless of what the party leadership say or do building a base for ideas is important. To some degree a party leader or group are unable to do this work themselves as they are busy with the day to day work of party conflict and point scoring. People need to decide what they want and then pressurise the formal leadership to deliver.

One problem with the left is that the Tory "reforms" were based on a con. Cutting taxes and selling off council houses are not cost free for society. They impose huge negative costs that the Tories and their boosters just lied about. Tax cuts which are not temporary mean cuts to the social safety net and public investment. Council house sales men fewer homes for those in need and higher HB bills etc. It is hard to defeat people who lie without shame about the real cost to the community of anti social policies. People who just do not care what harm they cause to human welfare.


Funnily enough, I thought your supply side socialism wouldn't be too hard a sell for a revived One Nation Conservative Party. Still, I guess that's not on the cards right now.


Is it possible that your pessimism is self-fulfilling? The mechanism here is that smart, economically minded people are more likely to notice the constraints on political economy and so prefer to spend their time on debate or non-political activities rather than engage in political action until all we have left are those who believe in managerialist ideology.

On that note, here is an excellent project syndicate article that I found quite helpful in 'curing' pessimism.



«Neoliberal policies promised large gains for a relatively small group of people - capitalists. it was, therefore, relatively easy for them to organize to push their agenda - for example by funding think tanks and sympathetic politicians and through ordinary networking.»

Oh please, this is crazy -- the number one thing about neo-liberal policies is that they are supported by a majority of voters because most voters think of themselves as capitalist rentiers first and workers last, and that their interests are aligned wiht the "strivers" in the City and boardrooms and not with the "shirkers" who work to earn income.

Let's get out again the numbers for 2up/2down terraced house rentier profits:

«In 2001, the average price of a house was £121,769 and the average salary was £16,557, according to the National Housing Federation. A decade on, the typical price of a property is 94% higher at £236,518, while average wages are up 29% to £21,330»

This means that in those 10 years (and in the previous ten too) rentier speculators of average UK houses have enjoyed (usually tax-free) capital gains of around £12,000 per year, nearly doubling their £14,000 after-tax average earnings, all easily extracted without selling the house thanks to second mortgages.

The greatest thing the AEI (IIRC) did for neo-liberal policies was a study that showed that working class people who come into the property of a house, car and shares started to vote Tory, which led the Thatcher and successive governments to heavily subsidize house, car and share purchases.

With fantastic results...

Igor Belanov

You have overlooked the fact that 'Thatcherism' as a coherent ideology never achieved popularity with the mass of the population. What was successful was Thatcher's political strategy, which involved measures such as council house sales, share ownership and tax cuts that focused on a relatively small collection of important voters, giving them an interest in maintaining the Conservatives in power. When Labour gave up pledging to reverse these measures it was elected in 1997.
Opinion polls showed that most people still held to many of the ideals of the post-war period relating to taxation, public services and full employment, and clearly voted on the basis of a perceived self-interest rather than on ideological grounds. When Thatcher overreached herself it was on the Poll Tax- an ideological measure that was of benefit to very few.


The curious thing is that the exact same "supply side socialism" ideas seem to crop whenever anyone thinks outside the box as to how to have a productive stable economy. It seems irrespective of whether they have a right wing or left wing leaning. Michael Kalecki came up with his "capital tax" and "family allowance" proposals back in the 1930s. I was somewhat appalled to see that today some of the keenest proponents for such ideas are neo-Nazis such as James Bowery.

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