Prime Minister Theresa May has called a certain ‘achievement’ the greatest in human history. Many people are beside themselves in response.
In a speech to the Bank of England on 28 September, the Conservative leader branded ‘free-market’ economics:
the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created.
May’s “greatest agent” – free-market economics – has established a system where eight people own as much wealth as half the planet. Such grotesque levels of inequality run through the UK, where 50% of the country owns just 8.7% of the wealth. While living standards continue to fall for most, Britain’s richest 1,000 families are well on their way to tripling their wealth since the financial crisis. Since 2009, these families have increased their fortune by over 155%.
Yet May thinks neoliberal economics is literally the greatest achievement of all time. So the ridicule and criticism came piling in:
If Ryanair or Southern trains sponsored today's Theresa May speech on the glories of free market capitalism she'd never get there
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) September 28, 2017
This free market of yours, Theresa May, looks more like socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest.
— GeorgeMonbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) September 28, 2017
We live in one of the most unequal countries in Europe and Theresa May is giving a speech on how the free market will save us 😡
— Amelia Womack 🏴 (@Amelia_Womack) September 28, 2017
What about Brexit…?
Many people also pointed out the irony of the Prime Minister championing free markets while pushing for a hard Brexit:
Theresa May claims to support free trade but is determined to drag Britain out of the world’s largest and most ambitious trading bloc
— Vince Cable (@vincecable) September 28, 2017
Theresa May reading from her Remain campaign script by mistake. pic.twitter.com/mXTS0Uwpih
— Angry Scotland Podcast 🎙 (@AngryScotland) September 28, 2017
Whatever your view on Brexit, May is singing the praises of free markets while pushing to leave both the customs union and the single market. That doesn’t really add up.
May reverses reality
In the speech, May listed what she claims are the achievements of free-market economies. One such achievement is apparently as follows:
Absolute poverty shrinks, and disposable income grows.
In fact, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicts absolute child poverty (measured in relation to a previous year) will actually increase by 2021/22 under free market economics. This is unheard of in modern societies. In addition, relative child poverty (measured in comparison to other people in the UK) continues to increase.
It’s the opposite to what May says. While poverty grows, disposable income shrinks. Average UK household debt is at record levels of £13,000 with a corresponding collapse in disposable income. This is unsurprising when people have to spend a huge portion of their income on rent instead of in their local economy, for example.
May also said the current system:
is unquestionably the best, and indeed the only sustainable, means of increasing the living standards of everyone in a country.
But living standards are falling under the Conservative government. Real wages fell by 10.4% from 2007 to 2015. The free market consensus is actually making us worse off.
In short, May’s rhetoric is about as distant from reality as it can be. Given the disastrous impact of neoliberalism throughout the world, it’s no wonder people are incredulous over May’s speech. She thinks the greatest human innovation is one that takes money from ordinary people and hands it to the already rich. Out of touch doesn’t even cut it.
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