Yesterday was the final day of neo liberalism, and the dawn of something newer and possibly more terrifying. So today am going to tell you why you cannot roll a 21st century society back to the 19th century by the power of dying newspaper comment alone. Which was the final act of neo liberalism and the one which showed that economists, policy makers and politicians have been mixing up their ambitions and their capabilities.
In 2010 I was told that it was uncontestable that equality would be rolled back by austerity for working class women. That legal aid would be stripped so women could not leave the family unit and meet obligations to their children. That the benefits system would be used to abuse women who left the marital home, even though the state obligates them to do so when domestic abuse threatens their children. That cutting subsidies women need to work and pay childcare was the only sane response to a financial crisis, and that our social care needs as a nation would be met by forcing women to reprivatise that labour while we all shouted Big Society. By 2016 it hd been decided that 21st century women would justify their rape to the DWP.
Initially I put my faith in a fledgling anti-cuts movement, only to find out that my trade union, the elite left, the liberal press and the labour movement would be making sure this couldn’t be opposed. I watched them generate astroturf which has tied our opposition front bench to a growing fascist threat. I recorded it here as the post war settlement unravelled. At length(sorry). I did genuinely consider whether it was possible to roll back equality for working class women, and for a bit I thought it might be.
But even without trade unions, even with Laurie Penny and her friends rebranding violent misogyny as feminism, even with the Guardian delighted that the baby supply would be opened up for middle class couples as working class women lost their children, this was never possible.
And here’s why.
What happened was an expansion of an economic orthodoxy that cannot conceptualise a world where women are not property, that cannot even conceive of care labour that women have always done. An expansion of the economic orthodoxy that caused the financial crisis, as a solution to the financial crisis. An abusive reflex response to financial instability. So that policy makers, economists, and politicians didn’t have to consider what the financial crisis was telling them or that the post war settlement was unravelling. We called it austerity.
The difference between an economic proposition and a mathematical one is that the context changes around an economic proposition. Economists, policy makers and political media told us loud and clear that they couldn’t see the context they exist in, never mind how it had changed around them. The post war settlement is now over and they didn’t even notice it unravelling. They could never roll back equality, because you can’t undo an evolutionary shift with the power of newspaper comment alone. You can demonstrate you are fucking oblivious to the way the world has changed around you and then find someone to clean up the mess you made.
Sue Himmlewhite is an academic and a feminist economist who outlined the differences between care labour and other types of labour. It’s labour that has to be delivered without interruption, the source of stability, the relationship is the output, it requires an emotional connection that cannot be quantified, and institutions can only supplement existing relationships, it has to be outsourced if those responsible for it participate in the market sphere, and when you apply market rationale to institutions that support childcare, eldercare, you strip the main output from them in favour of measurable and quantifiable tasks. You create care deficits which result in crisis defined by abuse and neglect. You can’t quantify risk. You can’t quantify the relationship at the core of this labour. Noone has ever managed this. The market forces which shape institutions of the care economy are a bit different to the ones which shape finance, but ultimately it’s all part of the same system.
It’s what Keynes was talking about when he described the tendency of human beings to habituate. Sue knows this because in the 20th century the human species altered the way it organised and this had never happened before.
This labour, which had previously been so reliably delivered that not a single economist had bothered to consider it, had been covered by a marriage contract that meant women were property. We were bound into it for life and bound to sexual fidelity. Historically this meant women being beaten, abused and owned like cattle. People always worried about what would happen if women were not property and this labour didn’t get done, and so women saying no to this was a very big deal.
In the 20th century, across national borders something amazing happened. Women said no, we are not property. En masse. We asserted ourselves as market actors, and said we weren’t chattel to be beaten, raped, abused and subjugated. Our mothers, our grandmothers, our great grandmothers and our great-great grandmothers did this. And they didn’t need to write an opinion piece in the Grauniad about whether their shoes were feminist enough. The first visible generation of single parents scared the living shit out of Margaret Thatcher and she set in place a benefits blueprint that died the day IDS resigned. That was my mothers generation. By the time I left my husband I knew that the motherhood pay penalty, the cost of housing, and the cost of childcare were what the benefits system dealt with and was in no mood to discuss my relationship status or my daughters parentage. And not a single person has ever managed to explain why I should. Some feminists thought the secret to gender inequality was that women would just ignore this labour but this is not labour that can be ignored it has to be valued, because its the production of our economy and society.
The care economy emerged in the 20th century. The institutions of the welfare state emerged. Equality legislation. Women ceased to be property. This is not controversial any more.
New stable family forms emerged, the world did not end because women said they were not property to be beaten and raped at will, and this labour still got done but women became market actors. We learned that those abusive dynamics that had harmed women, created intergenerational inequality and that abuse is a cycle that drains the public purse. Women carried on gestating workers, we’ve never managed to make a synthetic uterus, but it meant we hit the motherhood pay penalty. Mainstream economics which is reliant on synthetic modelling, complicated statistical calculations, didn’t even notice. This change occurred across national borders, spontanteously, over a hundred or so years. And they didn’t even notice.
They completely missed an evolutionary shift. Or ignored it because the implications of this killed their models stone dead. For the same reason they missed every warning that the financial crisis was coming, for the same reason they didn’t notice the post war settlement unravelling. The discipline of economics thought the best way to deal with this was just to keep using a family unit they made up, where women were still property and the behaviour of an abusive psychopath was rational. At the same time birth rates fell and people started living a lot longer. Economists didn’t notice this either. Because they were so busy with their complicated sums, they assumed an evolutionary shift that occurred across national borders, spontaneously, would undo.
They decided the care labour that women had always been responsible for, was an inefficiency the human race could just do without, if they just attacked that, the financial crisis they missed would be sorted. In 2010 policy makers decided to undo this shift by abusing lone parents(who occupy an odd spot because they are one person heading a household, with a responsibility for this labour and a responsibility to be market actors). They decided if we just cut the subsidies women needed to work, cut childcare subsidies, cut domestic abuse shelters, cut legal aid for the family courts, that that would sort the banking crisis. They said they couldn’t see how these things were linked, but the rhetoric they sold it with seemed perfectly aware. And they fucked up.
So like all abusive reflexes, this generated crisis. It exposed every weakness in our political economy. Every weakness in our institutions. We had a whole bunch of crises we had a few years to deal with and this one reflex flushed those years away. Women lost their kids. Women were put on trial by their abusers in the family courts. Women had to go without food. Women were pushed out of work. Because all the institutions that evolved in the 20th century as a result of this extraordinary spontaneous evolutionary shift were deemed an inefficiency.
Because they use a bullshit model of the family, that fits with bullshit statistical modelling wrapped around tabloid symbolism and liberal philosophy, economists can’t do certain things. They don’t understand distribution within households. They aggregate millions of households that fit with their fantasy and base our economic policies on it. But they never bothered checking the distribution of resources in households at all and never bothered to check what households actually looked like. They certainly never considered that household shapes had changed. Then they wondered why their models failed.
The state cannot just ignore reality the way economists can, even though economists retain primacy in policy making. We work with reality and reality shapes our institutions. The Children Act provides a framework that families actually have to use, the state has a conception of the family that is centred around responsibilities to children. In real courts that serve the crown.
The legislation that provides a framework where we demand that families place children as a priority, it places them at the centre of distribution within households. We have millenia of evidence that this is how households distribute resources anyway. We know this is why women act as shock absorbers of poverty and deny themselves food for their kids. This has always been the case. The reason they could lash out at working class women after the financial crisis is that women will do this no matter what pressure you put them under. Nature made it that way. The Children Act is an attempt to approximate it for the very small number of cases where that doesn’t happen. Where care deficits result in the state intervening.
Economists can’t conceptualise power. They don’t understand power dynamics. They can’t see the safeguarding legislation, capacity legislation, domestic abuse legislation which maps out when these power dynamics go wrong. They ignored the changes that led to this legislation. They can’t see that abusive dynamics are an extension of normal power dynamics and under no circumstances do economists or policy makers reflect on those power dynamics, even though Keynes and Hayek were both obsessed with these dynamics. They can’t see the institutions that evolved to deal with child abuse, they can’t see what shaped our benefits system, and they can’t see the way inequality shapes institutional development. So they pretend these power dynamics don’t exist, and use a model of rational man who is most efficient if he can abuse someone into doing the care labour for free. They use liberal philosophy and debates about what to do with the poor, rather than take the time to use the data these institutions give them. They’ve done this since 1945.
Economists and policy makers can be blind to this, but the state can’t, because the state enforces these laws and passes them.
So even though women have been legally obliged to leave the household unit with their children if their children are coming to harm since 2005, and the state will take your children for failing to protect them, policy makers decided austerity could just pretend this wasn’t the case. THey cried market forces, as they used our welfare institutions to try and undo an evolutionary shift that occurred across national borders over a 100 years. They claimed this was market orthodoxy when Hayek could have explained democratic equality and the dangers of using theoretical economics in this way without reflecting on power, or the way the context had changed around their models. The same policy makers weren’t aware that people with disabilities are citizens, and disabled people were abused on a grand scale while we fundamentally removed the ability of women to meet the responsibilities the state places on them. This caused a fundamental reconstruction in people’s understanding of their relationship with the state. On a macro scale. Sensible.
Thomas Piketty, a french economist scared the living shit out of his discipline when he took tax return data and made a longitudinal model out of it. One tiny stream of data collected from tax returns, analysed for trends and patterns over a long time, was the first time their bullshit models had been contextualised in reality. It turns out that policy makers and economists have NEVER used the data provided by our benefits institutions, by our care institutions, by any of our institutions for that matter. They use made up shit instead and try to make the world fit their fantasy.
Piketty showed that wealth is retained within families and passed down and it turns out that economists don’t have ANY way to incorporate intergenerational reciprocity into their models. Cos thats what motherhood is. Giving birth. Passing down through generations. It is an inefficiency economists pretend doesn’t exist.
They can’t see demographic shifts, an ageing population, falling birth rates, and they can’t conceptualise the principles of care labour that women like Sue Himmelewhite laid out. And they react badly to people telling them this so they can retain a position at the top of a well paid academic hierarchy. We have a fuck off big social care crisis because policy makers just thought they could slash at care institutions because they dont contribute to growth and the political media agreed.
Because economists couldn’t see care labour, couldn’t see family structures, couldnt see the context they were in, or changing demographics, never mind the context changing around their models and leaving them obsolete, they didn’t see how this would generate crisis. In much the same way they couldn’t see how debt generated instability.
We broke our child protection system and made it punitive, we liquidated our social care infastructure, we pushed women out of work en masse using our benefits system.. We removed the ability of women to leave the household unit with their children and then punished them for it. We justified it using tabloid symbolism and liberal philosophy and economic models which had already led to a financial crisis.
As a response to a financial crisis, we decided that making women property again would solve all our problems and instead it just exposed what policy makers, economists and politicians, can’t see. We generated crisis. Which now have to be fixed.
When they did this, the millions of people who work in the institutions economists can’t see objected on the basis it wasnt possible. Like most abusive reflexes this one highlighted problems in all our institutions upholding it. Starting with trade unions.
It turned out trade unions who should have been able to point out this couldnt work, PCS and UNISON, didn’t know any of this. THey would have, if they had been representing their members. It turned out they had instead been used to preserve a culture who should have been killed off in 1983 when the Labour left made Labour unelectable. It turned out that Militant rebranded as the Socialist Party, and hid in a trade union representing mainly female public sector workers. Our benefits system, the tax system. No representation at all. The SWP and Labour stooges like Dave Prentis kept UNISON from functioning, aided by the TUC and the ‘Labour movement’, and none of them had a fucking clue what these institutions did. Or the people who worked in them.
So they spent 6 years preventing anyone discussing the economic consensus that led to this reflex. Because it might harm Labour or involve trade unions functioning to represent members. Labour media rolled out Oxbridge poppets like Owen Jones to make sure anyone discussing this was abused and smeared. It’s why women like me ended up on the receiving end of death threats. And its why we got an anti-cuts movement that didn’t discuss austerity but did give a lot of posh lefty brats new careers.
We had to stop marching against austerity because when we did, the TUC would make sure it was seen as a march FOR Labour austerity. The SWP, a rape cult made sure each protest was branded in their image, and the elite left led by friends of Laurie Penny would mask up to make sure the protest got violent so it wasn’t safe to go. (This is while they rebranded feminism into something where discussing the reproductive capacities at the core of this would get you labelled transphobic and lead to you getting threats of having your throat slit, cos die cis scum.)
They revealed that the elite Oxbridge left have been forming a hermetic seal around that Labour/trade union link for a long time, and these elite brats were ready to attack anyone who wanted to discuss consensus on austerity. And between them this culture worked in symbiosis to tirelessly prevent ANY discussion of equality being rolled back for women.
This culminated in Jeremy Corbyn’s election this summer as Labour leader and means we now have a Labour Party who are aligned with Trump and Putin, telling the electorate that Peoples Momentum are going to replace parliamentary democracy if they can just stop squabbling.
They inadvertently created a really useful little window so we could observe how inequality leads to populism. Which should have been a concern of economists claiming to use the names of Keynes and Hayek, for whom that was a lifelong obsession. If Labour ever want to be elected again they now have to get rid of the Labour Movement, the trade unions have to be made to function and they HAVE to address the inequality that led them here. The have coalesced around Jeremy Corbyn like they never watched Cersei Lannister deal with the High Sparrow with wildfire. In order for Labour to now be elected they have to address the trade unions and the archaic labour left who still live in 1983. So we will get trade unions who represent us next time. In order for Labour to be elected they have to address the failure of their economic models and learn the lessons austerity is giving them.
It gets better. This abusive reflex highlighted weaknesses in our legislation. It demonstrated that a) policy makers and economists were not even aware of the complex web of legislation that emerged in the 20th century. Family legislation, capacity legislation, human rights legislation, equality legislation. We have long understood that equality legislation was largely symbolic. Even before Kimberle Crenshaw wrote Mapping the Margins, women like Nicola Lacey were outlining how equality legislation was structured to prevent women using it. How the definitions of discrimination were designed to suit market needs and wrapped around liberal philosophy and hardwired to be ineffective. Pointing out that legislation had specifically been designed to exclude the welfare systems that were the other side of the liberal prescription for gender inequality. The Equality Act of 2010 promised to rectify this. Said equality legislation now applied to public institutions. Women could now be protected from abuse by the state on the basis of their gender. In practice it was used to roll equality back for women. Like that was even possible.
Our courts are currently a mangle of legal challenges sucking money out of the treasury, because policy makers weren’t aware that austerity would breach the state’s responsibilities to it’s citizens. This is costing a fortune.
Kimberle Crenshaw’s critique of how discrimination legislation creates single fictions of single axis discrimination, when women can;t actually separate out co-existing facets of their identity to match, is not new. It was already wound into a critique of how this links to other state institutions, how power relations shape this, and which requires understanding the economy in terms of its institutional context. Economists and elite institutions didn’t know this, because it was contained in social work, at the arse end of the system. They have just opened up multi-disciplinary research centres at most major elite institutions, to try and figure this out. They could have just ordered a Veronica Coulshed or Lena Dominelli text written decades ago.
The home of modern liberal feminism, and social policy reporting, the Grauniad, decided austerity was their opportunity. It turned out these journalists had zero understanding of inequality, didn’t even know we had these institutions, never mind what they did, and they thought the baseline for citizenship was the poor appealing to them for sympathy. They ignored equality being rolled back, child protection systems being transformed into punitive systems that took women’s kids as a punishment for domestic abuse, while the benefits system was used to abuse people, and treated it as boon because it was a baby supply for middle class couples to adopt. THey asked poor people to write poverty porn, as if the baseline for citizenship was whether Patrick Butler thought we were appealling. They made it look like you actually could just roll equality back. So Guardian sales fell and they locked themselves into a silly little online echochamber, sure the crisis would never hit them. Its unlikely the print Guardian will survive the year. They can only survive if they address this.
Women(and people with disabilities) were abused as a reflex response to a financial crisis and it caused a reconstruction of peoples understanding of their relationship with the state, it generated populism which now occupies the opposition bench of the house of commons and we generated a massive social care, child protection and benefits crisis which will cost billions to fix and could now topple a government. No government can function without addressing these crisis. That remains true, even if we barge into World War 3. There IS a reason the Beveridge report was found in Hitler’s bunker.
6 yeas down the line everything is fucked, but these crisis now have to be addressed. And all we have to do is contextualise economic models in institutional development for the 20th century, and point out they should really have known this. And they will now have to learn it. But they have to do it after while dealing with the populism they generated. And the crisis they created has metastisised. When it’s done they have zero choice but to address this.
Before 2.5 million women marched this week, I cried at the news several times. I had been to see Peter Kyle, the first MP to speak up about domestic abuse victims being put on trial in the family courts by their abusers. Because of what he did, there is going to be action on women being cross examined by their abusers. Then there was research published which confirmed that women had wrongly had children removed, and been put on trial for poverty, this is on top of an already phenomenal child protection crisis. The campaigning Polly Neate and Women’s Aid did on the preventable child deaths caused by the presumption of contact even in cases where this is evidence of domestic abuse bore fruit. And even though our trade unions refused to represent us, the elite left worked tirelessly to prevent this being discussed, action happened anyway. The government are crapping themselves about a Universal Credit system that has wasted 20 billion at least, and slowly waking up to the fact they might have to learn how cash transfer systems actually work, instead of competing about how to abuse the poor.
An abusive reflex to financial instability will do one thing and one thing only, it wil demonstrate how a financial crisis, becomes a social crisis, and becomes a political crisis. Social work, social care, and the institutions attacked by austerity were never devised by policy makers, they were always a response to social change and crisis. The welfare state was never a gift, it was a compromise made to prevent revolution during a war. You can’t undo institutional development that was shaped by 70 years crisis without generating the same crisis. Because we tried we are seeing the death of the liberal class, we are at risk of fascism, and the crisis has reached Westminster and our financial centre.
Yesterday a fascist was sworn in at the Whitehouse and an axis of aggression which incorporates Putin, Trump and little old us, appeared inevitable. But even if this happens the crisis generated by austerity have to be fixed. Today 2.5 million women worldwide marched. And demonstrated that we communicate globally and you can’t just roll equality back.
Our institutions developed at different rates in the twentieth century. Domestic abuse is only recently a policy goal, noone in the wartime years understood child protection would be demanded by society, our benefits system is still shaped by bullshit economics that can’t see the context in which it functions never mind how that context changes. The crisis we are now entering has gender at its core. Most of the problems in our instiutions we never had the chance to fix before. You can’t do much about an institution once it is established, and you don’t get many opportunities to completely redefine them. That opportunity is here. And the last 6 years have highlighted everything we need to address. We haven’t had an opportunity like this since 1945 and we don’t actually have to wait for an entire global conflict to address this. In fact the crises we have created won’t let us.
This will be the last time that policy makers think you can just roll equality back for women to distract from a financial crisis. The next few years may be ugly, but the Dickhead spring is a tide going out and the one coming in is better. The Dickhead Spring is nasty and will use all it’s might, but has as much hope as King Cnut did of succeeding long term.
Yesterday was the last day of neo liberalism when Trump was sworn in. Whatever happens now bullshit economic models will have to be put into context. We have to address their failures, and even as the Dickhead Spring threatens us all, policy makers will have to find solutions to these problems. So while am frightened, am also optimistic.
Each age is a dream that is dying and a new one coming to birth. Fascism is not in itself a new order of society. It is the future refusing to be born. Well, we are in labour people and its time to push.
There is no point being generation snowflake, a snowflake on its own is pretty but useless. An avalanche is an entirely different matter.