The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc of Eastern Europe was greeted with a sense of triumphalism in the West, which was marked by books such as that Francis Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man) in which he stated that human development had reached its apogee in the development of the free enterprise liberal democratic state. Amongst the rubble of the collapsed state Soviet politicians, businessmen and writers were eager to learn from the West how to remake Russia as a successful nation state. In response academics and businessmen rushed to Russia to help remodel the state into one similar to those of the successful West. Rather than these reformers helping Russia to rebuild they precipitated an economic collapse. A collapse only halted by the return to authoritarian rule and I will argue that the free market reforms are more likely to result in an an authoritarian state than a democratic one.
It was not only the old Soviet Union that suffered from this enthusiasm for the free enterprise liberal democratic state. Surprisingly one of the victor states, the United Kingdom has suffered from an excess of the same excess of enthusiasm. Whether it is in the financial markets and the service sector or manufacturing, all have suffered from the malign practices engendered by the free market.
The ‘hands off’ state has created an economy in which ‘the dog eats dog’ market but not as Neo-Liberal economists envisioned . Markets are not dominated by the most efficient companies who grown to dominance through outperforming their poorly performing rivals, but they are dominated by the most rapacious of businesses. Poorly performing banks such as National Westminster and the Midland Bank were swallowed up by predator rivals, The Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC. Instead of the banking market being dominated by a group of super efficient banks, it was dominated to large to manage corporations that monopolised the banking market. The rapacious nature of these monsters was demonstrated by huge salaries they paid their senior staff. These cumbersome financial giants inevitably failed in the crisis of 2008/9, but rather than being allowed to fail they were either taken over by the state or survived through an implicit state guarantee, that it would do whatever was necessary to ensure the survival of these banks. The state mortgaged itself to enable these too large to fail banks to survive. Even after the failures of 2008/9 these banks remained powerful enough to fight off any significant attempts at banking reform.
One criticism of the Russian Federation is that the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, made possible the rise of the Mafia state which now effectively controls the economy. Vladimir Putin is described as the boss of bosses within this Mafia state. Something similar has happened in the UK, which while it lacks what can be termed a criminal Mafia, business enterprise is in the hands of a non homocidal Mafia. In a market from which law has been effectively banished (in the name of free market reforms), it is not the most efficient that thrive but the most ruthless and rapacious. These rapacious business corporations exploit their customers and staff, by overcharging customers for their services or products and by condemning their employees to low pay and insecure working conditions. Other better run businesses are forced to follow suit if they wish to avoid going out of business. Also these rapacious businesses treat the state as an ever open purse to be raided when needed.
There is hardly a sector of British business that does not benefit from generous state handouts. The government facilitates the poor treatment of employees by giving a cash handout (tax credits) to those employees of firms that pay less than the living wage.
Much as with Moscow’s much criticised government, the UK government collaborates with these Mafia like bosses. The Westminster government has legislated to destroy labour protection laws, I think this must be the only country in which it is legally permitted to dismiss an employee because their face does not fit. In Russia the state either collaborates with local mafia’s to destroy the opposition or uses its own security services to do the job. Similarly the British state has worked to undermine and emasculate any organised opposition to corporate Britain. Legislation has made it very difficult for unions to organise effectively on behalf of the workers, huge fines can be imposed on these unions. When the trade unions in Scotland organised against threatened wage cuts in an oil refinery, they found that not only did they face a hostile employer, but a hostile government and media. Even the Social Democratic Party in parliament refused to lend their support to the strikers. Legislation has also been introduced to make protests against corporate Britain difficult or impossible. Legislation that was intended to control stalkers is used against individuals protesting against business corporations. Even the courts do as in Russia work to support the limit the effectiveness of the opposition, any business corporation guilty of wrong doing can use the law to silence their critics. The libel law and the super injunction are the means by which they are achieved. When comparing the UK and the Russian confederation the difference is in degree as in both the government and legal system combine to hide the failings of the corporate state by silencing their critics and by destroying the opposition.
Freedom of speech has not yet disappeared in the UK, there is considerable opposition to the over mighty state and its business friends. Unfortunately as the UK government becomes more and more authoritarian the scope for the freedom of speech and organised dissent will become increasingly restricted. The opposition tends not be to within parliament but outside it, which makes it easier to criminalise it as extra parliamentary opposition. The convergence that Francis Fukuyama predicted between the old Soviet Union and the West, has in the case of the UK been a matching convergence movement towards a more authoritarian state.