Stuart Hall: who is this idiot?

Having looked him up, apparently he\’s something like the Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the Open University. And entirely ignorant to boot:

Neoliberalism is grounded in the \”free, possessive individual\”, with the state cast as tyrannical and oppressive. The welfare state, in particular, is the arch enemy of freedom. The state must never govern society, dictate to free individuals how to dispose of their private property, regulate a free-market economy or interfere with the God-given right to make profits and amass personal wealth. State-led \”social engineering\” must never prevail over corporate and private interests. It must not intervene in the \”natural\” mechanisms of the free market, or take as its objective the amelioration of free-market capitalism\’s propensity to create inequality.

As an analysis of neoliberalism that\’s a pretty good coq au vin recipe. That is, it has entirely fuck all to do with the subject under discussion.

All good little neoliberals, myself for example, are entirely signed up to the idea that the State must intervene at times. That markets must be regulated, that profit making not only might be but should be justly and righteously limited. Yes, even that \”social engineering\” should prevail over corporate and private interests.

Our arguments with \”social democracy\” (to give one possible name to the system which neoliberalism is fighting against) come in three flavours.

1) The areas where private interests prevail over State are much larger than social democrats declare they are. To take one trivial example  from the current news: salt in HP sauce. If a company wishes to market and consumers which to purchase and consume a sauce which is higher in salt than the State thinks is wise then the State can bugger off. Nothing to do with the State at all. On yer bike matey.

2) We do not move from \”this must be regulated\” to \”the State must regulate this\” quite so easily as the social democrats. Should the freshness, taste, ingredients and general potability of Heinz Tomato Soup be regulated? Yes, most certainly: but the interesting question is by whom? We neoliberals would note that actually, it\’s become the world\’s best selling brand of the stuff (well, I assume it is anyway) because Heinz has a reputation to maintain, a brand, and consumers do very well at regulating, through their purchase or not of such a product, the quality of such repeat purchases. Heinz gained this reputation by poisoning fewer consumers than the competition back in the early days of canning.

There are areas where consumers are not so good at such producer regulation. One time purchases with long term payoffs for example: there\’s no neoliberal out there who doesn\’t think that the pensions industry needs a goodly bit of State oversight.

3) We don\’t think that the welfare state should be abolished either. Nor that there should be no redistribution, no intervention in market outcomes or market distribution of consumption. Indeed, we\’re all usually far more radical about how to do these things than the social democrats are. It\’s us, people like Uncle Milt, Charles Murray, who argue that bugger it, just give everyone enough to live on. Go on, do it, stop buggering about with 50 p a week here, a tenner there. Just send everyone £6,000 a year or whatever and leave them alone. Negative income taxes, the EITC in hte US, tax credits in the UK, these are neoliberal ideas you must recall. So is the London Congestion Charge (no, really, Alan Walters).

However, what we do argue is that much of the time you do want to let the market rip: then do the balancing and redistribution after that. Rather than cripple the market to get to your desired goal, use the market to create the wealth to get there. Further, that subtle adjustments to markets to cure their imperfections are better than bureaucratic dictats. For example, a Pigou Tax on carbon emissions is better than 3,500 pages of rules and regulations on who may emit what, when and how.

In the end though, what you\’ve really got to remember is that us neoliberals are in fact liberals. In fact, we\’re the only people in the political arena who are consistently liberals. On the conservative side there are most certainly those who would regulate which adults you can voluntarily exchange bodily fluids with. Over on the left, socialist and green, side there are most certainly those who would regulate which adults you can voluntarily exchange economic goods with.

We\’re the only people who are arguing that who you fuck and who you trade with is no damn business of the State at all. The only people arguing that you\’re an adult, you\’re a free adult living in a free country and, well, have fun, eh?

You know, liberals arguing for liberty.

Which is why we get such stick from both left and right of course: both groups being insistent that the proles have to be told what to do by the proper, edumacated, enlightened sort of people who make up said lefts and rights.

And we liberals are out there shouting, as we have been for three centuries now, shouting that aristocracies, whether by birth, self-selection or political power, can simply fuck right off out of the lives of free adults.

9 thoughts on “Stuart Hall: who is this idiot?”

  1. I don’t know what a “neoliberal” is and I don’t think Hall does, or anyone else. It’s a perjorative, like “fascist” or “neocon”. However useful the term started out, it is now just anyone who disagrees with whatever Progressives think at the moment. I’m not even sure I know what “Progressive” means any more either, other than “not neoliberal”.

    I don’t know therefore what you are Tim, I think you generally call yourself a classical liberal, which isn’t ISTM the same as a neoliberal. But Hall is pretty accurately describing “libertarians”, who do want to ultimately abolish the welfare state, all State regulation, and so on, and argue that the market can do all those things. If you’re a Wet Libertarian like me, you want to do all that gradually rather than hit the Nuke button, but that is the ultimate goal.

    Hall’s error is to think that anyone who doesn’t completely agree with him is a neoliberal-defined-as-libertarian. The Tory Party for instance. This is simply wrong of him. There are lots of libertarians out here who wish they were as he describes, but they aren’t- they are big state regulators who just disagree somewhat about what needs to be regulated, e.g. the degree of centralised land use regulation (the current bunfight over Planning).

  2. Stuart Hall? Used to present ‘It’s a Knockout’ on the telly.

    Also presented the local news in Manchester, wearing one of those odd striped shirts with a plain white collar.

    Sad to see he’s fallen to doing less useful things in his old age.

  3. I don’t think it is economic at all Tim, it’s about control. Just as it is emerging that as with climate science, the balance of evidence on salt as a health risk has been distorted by media manipulation, the control freak state steps up its scare tactics.
    The amount of salt we get from a tasty smidign of sauce is negligabe so why the attck? To remind us we are not capable of thinking for ourselves.
    Unfortunately a lot of people will fall for the scam.

  4. When I was studying at the Open University Stuart Hall was one of the left wing numbskulls whose courses I learned to avoid.
    I mainly studied Politics but I occasionally had to take some units sponsored by the Sociology Dept, these were nothing more than left wing polemics by and large.
    If you are ever going to study at this otherwise excellent institution I recommend avoiding Sociology, Art History and Geography, all well known bastions of Marxism and the more barking left wing versions of Feminism.

  5. @Tim – What is this obsession with food? Of course you’re right that anyone should be free to market, and consumers should be free to buy, anything which contains more salt than the State thinks is wise. The decision to reduce the amount of salt in HP Sauce was down to Heinz and Heinz alone. This was not, repeat, not a result of State regulation. And if the new HP doesn’t find favour with consumers, then no doubt Heinz will revert to the previous recipe. So where’s the problem?

    You then go on to praise Heinz tomato soup as a success story, when of course as any fule kno Heinz reduced the salt content in their tomato soup only a few years ago.

    So how come it’s OK for them to reduce the salt content in their tomato soup (with apparently no detrimental effect on sales) but it’s not OK for them to do the same with HP sauce?

    I did hesitate before posting these remarks because I very much agree with your broad argument. But these examples do not support your case, and I wonder why you introduce them.

    Tim adds: Heinz soup was a historical example, the foundation of the entire brand. Time scales are importnat….

  6. Hi Tim,

    Nice article, which presents a good case for neo/classic liberalism (whatever we call it nowadays). That said, you did write a few things which I was surprised at:

    “All good little neoliberals, myself for example, are entirely signed up to the idea that … profit making not only might be but should be justly and righteously limited.”

    Really? In the current crony capitalist state that we live in, then yes a lot of unjust profit-making goes on. If we had a truly free market system then I would see no problem with profits at all. Would you agree?

    “We don’t think that … there should be no redistribution, no intervention in market outcomes”

    Again, if we had a truly free market system then would justification would there be for any centrally-administered redistribution? What classic liberal would presume to be capable/justified to decide what should be ‘redistributed’ from whom to whom?

    Just interested…

    Tim adds: Profit limitation? We have to continually be on our guard to ensure that we do have a free market: smashing monopolies for example. Redistribution? I take it to be one of the defining differences between a classical liberal and a libertarian that we’re always going to have a welfare safety net even if not the one we have, and that that safety net will be underwritten by government and thus involve redistribution. As I say, it might be very different from what we have (a negative income tax for example) but there will be a state run redistribution effort.

  7. Thanks for the clarification Tim. particularly about the point on redistibution. In my head, a system providing a *temporary* ‘safety net’ for people who have fallen on hard times, to support them while they sort themselves out, is more of a kind of insurance policy than ‘redistribution’. When put in this specific context/definition, then yes, as a classic liberal then I would not have a problem with ‘redistribution’.

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