Lee Rowley, a Tory MP in Derbyshire, is co-chair of FREER think-tank.
FREER is a subsidiary of Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA): “FREER will have its own advisory board, brand, and image, but it will be financed, run and operated by the IEA.”
In November FREER published Rowley’s paper ‘Next Generation Capitalism.’
“This paper examines the challenges that free markets and capitalism face today, and sets forth a pragmatic and punchy approach for remaking the argument for an economic system that, while imperfect, still provides the greatest opportunities in the history of mankind.”
The declaration above was partly true in the sense that the purpose of the paper was to present capitalism positively compared to its enemy – socialism – via the use of cult-like veneration, criminal misrepresentation, purposeful omission and historical inaccuracy, and to propose some tactics to use to try to con people into supporting capitalism.
It was a very stupid and intellectually perfidious essay. However, it is useful to examine its content to be aware of the (lack of) substance of the strategy of IEA and their ilk.
All quotes in italics below are Rowley’s from Next Generation Capitalism (NGC). (I picked out the salient points in more or less the order in which they appeared in the paper.)
The second sentence of NGC displayed its mendacious perspective and negated immediately any need to take it seriously: “The engines [capitalism] that have lifted 1.5 billion people out of poverty in the last thirty years.” The reversal of truth and grotesque historical omissions in that sentence were indicators that the paper would be extremely dishonest and devoid of cohesive analysis.
Rowley started with an attack on the young people who are wary of capitalism and who are favouring a leftward tendency: “The ones who, curiously, seem to decry the inequality and the iniquity of the profit motive, whilst living for the technology created by the corporate enterprise and innovation driven by it.” Yes, he went with the “how can you be a socialist if you have an iPhone?” argument. He then talked about gulags.
“For those of us who do believe that free markets are the best engine of progress, how do we start to change these attitudes?” asked Rowley. His answer is with lies, omissions in analysis, con-tricks, bribery, misinformation, disinformation, obfuscation and distraction and Rowley was happy to provide all those tools. “Capitalism, based within a free-market system, intrinsically respects people, their values, views, and desires.”
Rowley described NGC as a guide for FREER disciples on how to con/persuade (mostly younger) people to believe in benefits of free market capitalism.
“The challenge for free markets, and for capitalism, is manifold: the message is tarnished, the frames are poor, and, fundamentally, the moral case for what they achieve is missing. We need to rectify each of these shortcomings. To do that we need to understand the problem, understand what drives the coming generation, and find ways to remake the argument for an economic system that, however imperfect, is still providing the greatest opportunities in the history of mankind.”
The “message is tarnished” and Rowley wanted a “moral case for free markets.” His modus operandi was PR not analysis.
After a pointless chapter on “youthquake” – Rowley’s invention that he subsequently dismissed, he bemoaned polls that showed some young people are aware of how capitalism operates and in whose interests.
“Youth, when asked in polls commissioned by those favourable, unfavourable, and agnostic towards capitalism or market solutions – are clearly sceptical about what is on offer. Lower taxes, less spending, and smaller government polls badly. Support for the removal of red tape is shockingly low.”
“Socialism has moved out of the history books” and “socialist economics is now discussed as if it is a solution” were examples of Rowley’s frequent pantomime displays of fake incredulity. “The idea of dynamic outcomes in taxation, or the opportunity cost of taking more of other people’s money, now almost entirely untroubles the public discourse,” he declared dramatically while sidestepping the fact that what he described there was normal human nature: Caring about other people and not being rabid libertarian selfish twerps.
Throughout Rowley conflated “capitalism” with “liberalism” with the dual connected intents of obscuring capitalism’s intrinsic illiberal methodology and positing socialism as opposed to liberal philosophy. It was a very lazy con-trick of repetition.
His continuous abuse of the definition of “liberal,” both philosophically and politically, exposed several facets to his methodology.
- Wilful misrepresentation of accepted political definitions
- Utter contempt for the intelligence and knowledge of the people he claimed he intends to convert
- Constant suppression of cognitive abilities in his FREER disciples
Rowley admitted that “there is a widespread cultural, political, and perception problem with liberalism [he meant capitalism] and free markets.” Yes, there is because people are aware of how capitalism, free markets and libertarian (not liberal) philosophies are harmful and feed only a small elite of wealth terrorists. The latter are, of course, the money behind think-tanks like Institute of Economic Affairs for whom Rowley works.
“Why are free markets not seen as ideals?” was asked with more pretend surprise. Rowley wanted to know why, by his logic, people didn’t want to support a system that offered opportunities to succeed at others’ expense by taking some risks. “Why do you need particular assets, or a stake in the system, to recognise the virtues of independence, aspiration, and personal freedom?” The depiction of socialism as a restraint on independence, aspiration and freedom was a tired old oft-debunked misrepresentation as was the symbiotic depiction of capitalism as an enabler of those qualities, but Rowley was not afraid to keep repeating the same deceptive mantras like a Scientologist selling a Hubbard book.
The key part of Rowley’s gormless paper were his answers to his question “what would convince younger voters to change their views and perspectives, if anything?”
The real question he asked was “what deceptive strategy is needed to persuade young people?”
Referring to a FREER survey he said “our intention was to get behind the raw numbers that show that capitalism has an image problem.” The problem, for Rowley’s ilk, is that capitalism’s “image” reflects its reality and it is that correlation that Rowley, and Institute of Economic Affairs, are desperate to break. The survey also concluded that commerce has “an image problem.” So, tax dodging, low wages, no job security and poor working conditions are an “image problem?”
To correct the “image problem” of capitalism Rowley suggested a few tactics of conmanship and presentation that the disciples of the FREER cult could use to persuade younger people to not be led astray by socialism. As often in his paper, Rowley referred to these disciples as “liberals.” He reminded them that “there is a moral mission at the heart of our politics.” Can I get a ‘Hallelujah!’
Rowley stated his intent to embed two blatant lies in the advice he gave to his imaginary army of capitalist disciples for them to spread the word across the land about the benefits of capitalism over socialism.
Lie no.1: Austerity is not capitalism
“Separate austerity from capitalism: in the last decade, capitalism and austerity have become inextricably intertwined. Those of us who remember capitalism before the crash can, just about, remember some of its benefits.”
“Austerity” is a feature of Tory strategy. It is deliberate policy. Its purpose is to remove public funding for all public services and divert the money into the hands of privateer vultures – the private “owners” of public services, and to remove vital funding for welfare, health, etc. in order to feed further tax cuts for the wealthiest. Tory “austerity” policy is a continuation of normal Tory policy and, thus, it is normal policy of a capitalist government. The choice by the Tories to impose “austerity” on the poorest people in Britain is a decision that has absolutely no connection to difficulties experienced by some international financial institutions ten years ago, described as “the crash” by Rowley above.
Later, Rowley expanded on his separation theme.
“For most of the last decade, public policy [Tory policy] has focused on reducing the debt, and the inevitable ‘cuts’ narrative that flows from opponents of it.”
Savage cuts – real cuts, not part of a “narrative” – have been deliberate decisions by Tory governments. The “debt” has increased markedly during recent Tory governments and the Tories’ policies, described as “austerity,” have never had the intent of reducing fiscal debt.
Lie no.2: Capitalism is synonymous with liberalism
“Liberalism has become too heavily reliant upon the allure of negative freedom. We need to demonstrate how liberal policies provide freedom to ‘do’ not just to protect people ‘from’“
Liberalism, politically, is a subset of capitalism but not synonymous with it. But, when Rowley promoted liberalism in NGC he meant liberal philosophy. As a philosophy, liberalism is not bound by a political position. Rowley’s clumsy con to present (philosophical) liberalism as the same as capitalism was a salesman’s subterfuge; he knew liberalism was an easier sell than capitalism.
Rowley’s description of socialism was as dishonest as his description of capitalism. He displayed FREER’s Tea Party influence with a bizarre Bannon-like depiction of Socialism’s vanguard.
“Socialism endures both because of its simplicity, and the institutional sympathy that permeates the media, the civil service, and the dinner parties. We can declare war on Hampstead, as they’ve done on the East Coast in the States.”
Armed with the misrepresentations and attitudes described above, Rowley’s guide for FREER disciples to con the younger public – which, as he rightly observed, is anyone under fifty – stated lies as incontestable facts to the disciples and suggested tricks to spread the lies and build the congregation.
“Every day for the last three decades, the number of people living in absolute poverty has reduced by over 130,000, living standards have risen, life expectancy has grown, trade has expanded massively. We have done the impossible: kept ahead of massive population growth by improving living standards across the world and, in most cases, not just for the richest in global society. Capitalism works.”
“Choose the right words;
Have a better conversation;
Speak from the heart.”
On the use of words, Rowley was distressed that people were using words such as “poverty” to describe poverty. “We can only properly expound our arguments when we have created the framework for them to be understood. Language matters.” Propaganda matters.
Rowley’s “better conversation” included admitting that businesses can fail and that individual capitalists make errors. But, his offered solution was that businesses that fail should be allowed to collapse with no regard to the effect on employees or customers, including users of vital public services. Rowley promoted individuals gambling and, possibly, failing and sod the consequences for others, who didn’t gamble.
The “speak from the heart” mini-doctrine for the FREER disciples was as creepy as expected.
“We fail to connect at a deeper, more visceral level.”
“This mission to convince is all the more important for younger voters; they need to hear the emotional case and, crucially, they need to hear it on their own terms.”
“Those who have studied the millennial cohort suggest they display certain shared characteristics subtly different to other groups.”
“Their ability to live and love is central to the journey they are on – and the pathways they choose are even wider and smoother than for those of us who grew up just a few years before them.”
Rowley admitted the cult-like nature of his aim – “seeking converts” – and then asked the FREER disciples to “engage honestly.” Given the embedded lies in his doctrine, lies that are the basis of the entire presentation, by “engage honestly” Rowley meant “stick to the fraudulent script supplied to you that I have elucidated in this paper.”
Rowley saw “free stuff” where others see public services.
“The perception of capitalism as something that harnesses and empowers human ingenuity to create better lives for everyone is tenuous in the minds of those who are tempted by ‘free stuff’, and, more importantly, the ability to improve the world at the same time as receiving that free stuff.”
By “free stuff” he meant NHS, education, police service, fire service, welfare provision, affordable housing, state pensions, public libraries, affordable and efficient public transport and utilities, legal aid, etc. He meant the building blocks of society. From his extremist libertarian, not liberal, viewpoint anything that supports humane society is to be removed and space allowed only for gamblers, exploiters and wealth terrorists.
A chapter that expanded on the deception that “austerity is not capitalism” spewed another common misrepresentation by claiming that it isn’t capitalism that is intrinsically bad but it is bad capitalism that is bad.
“If politics continues to deal with the prolonged hangover of excessive risk taking -without explaining that such risk taking was a failure of regulation of the system, rather than the system itself – it is understandable that skewed conclusions may be drawn.”
Capitalism fights constantly against regulations because all regulations are obstacles to the goal of capitalism: Exploitation. All regulations have been created against capitalism and many have had to be fought for over many battles; for example, workers’ rights, health and safety regulations, financial conduct regulations, etc. None of these regulations were created by the capitalists who opposed all of them. The “system” has always wanted to operate regulation-free.
“We might start with a new positive vision of the future” preceded mentions of new technology and automation in industry, but such innovations are not specific to capitalism, and capitalism, by its very nature, will seek to continue to use technological advances as tools to exploit workers. It was a random juxtaposition by Rowley.
“Our past should caution us to avoid the excesses of the Blair and Brown years.” Rowley did not mean Blair’s illegal war in Iraq nor did he mean Brown’s reckless attitude to financial regulation; Rowley meant the few attempts that the two prime ministers made to clawback some of the destruction of the Thatcher years.
A theme of the guidance to the FREER disciples from Rowley was they should explain that capitalism’s recent failures occurred because capitalism wasn’t free market enough.
“We have got here through two or three generations of politicians promising the world, mortgaging the future, and failing to level with those in society who they are seeking to govern and protect.”
Those “politicians” referred to above were (and are) capitalist politicians.
“There is merit and morality in spending restraint, and it is a fundamental principle of conservative thought that we pay our way, through consecutive economic cycles, in order to pave the way for a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.”
The above is, of course, trash. Reductions to vital public infrastructure favour only the wealthiest elite.
Throughout NGC, Rowley’s complaint was that capitalism has not been destructive enough toward society. He accepted that the last eight years of Tory destruction has deterred younger people from supporting capitalism and his solution to the declining support was to claim that less public spending and more savage cuts would have been better. That is economically and politically illogical but the purpose of his guide for the FREER disciples was to instill a spiritual doctrine that eschewed logic and deductive analysis.
Bannonesque incoherent ramblings popped up here and there.
“The competition element of free markets, the willingness to break things up, to fight for the small guy, to be sceptical of big business, and to be scornful of monopolies, are all disruptions which we should welcome. If we do not develop a new, robust ‘capitalism that solves problems’ policy prospectus, free from the draining austerity narrative, then we should not be surprised when socialism tries to fill in those gaps.”
There is no such thing as a “new capitalism.” Rowley’s, or Bannon’s, “small guy” will always be crushed or assimilated; capitalism is by nature destructive and seeks to consume. The plea above was one of fantasy but Rowley knew that.
He was careful to repeat distracting accusations and to throw the blame (for fiscal economic difficulties) elsewhere. “We may be condemned to always having to pick up from social democrats and socialism when the money runs out.”
Rowley mocked left-wing activists for using technology and drinking coffee. “A bemused picture of anti-capitalist warriors recording and curating their mission on Instagram, agreeing whom to demonstrate against next via Whatsapp and fuelling themselves with coffee from Starbucks” and he pretended to question the intellectual capacity of younger people to understand the stupid point he made. “We may be bewildered by the apparent failure of the next generation to grasp the underlying incongruity but, in reaching that conclusion, we misunderstand the structures within which youth work and act.” Why are these younger people too knowledgeable and intelligent to appreciate the nuances of Rowley’s concoctions of stupidity?
“Employment is at an all-time high.” Yes, some people have several different zero-hours jobs at subminimum wage.
His running joke of equating the existence of consumer products with capitalism allowed him to construct a bizarre argument that younger people are ignorant of a scenario whereby all consumer products and new technology would disappear with socialism.
“The triumph of capitalism creates the risk of its downfall; people have disassociated the plentiful products of the free market from the free market itself.”
In another Bannonesque moment, Rowley was wistful about the fact that old white men cannot continue to enjoy underserved privilege. “In the quest to free ourselves from our class, gender, background, and race, we are becoming their prisoners again,” he bemoaned after a clumsy critique of political correctness.
He had yet another twist of logic for his followers. Apparently, according to Rowley, younger people who support liberal philosophy in a social environment are blind to “its economic counterpart [capitalism].”
Capitalism is supported by control (legal and physical) to try to ensure the exploited don’t prevail but Rowley’s false analysis was to present capitalism as freedom, with “values.” “An appeal to the underlying values upon which our economics are based, which are also at the heart of our societal and cultural outlook, could yet ensure more people make the link.”
Despite the huge bias in newspapers and broadcast media in favour of a right-of-centre perspective, Rowley was concerned about the success of the use of social media platforms to promote left-of-centre views. These fears have been expressed frequently in recent years and have led others to seek censorship. The Tories instructed Lord Bew to concoct a report designed as a tool to encourage online censorship and Tory MP Chloe Smith was given a made-up ministerial post in order to oversee changes to the law that would restrict access to the right to vote and access to stand in elections.
Tories have tried haplessly to counter the success of online leftwing activism including Tory chair Brandon Lewis’ army of twitter trolls. The problem for free marketeers in online discourse is that they spout dishonest scripts whereas leftwing activists speak honestly and factually. It is an uneven contest with one winner every time and that winner is not relentless liar James Cleverley. Every contribution by right-wing think-tank gimps from Institute of Economic Affairs, Tax-Payers’ Alliance or Adam Smith Institute gets the full treatment: A virtual slapping frenzy.
Rowley’s assessment of leftwing success online caused him distress. “Momentum has an almost reverential reputation for the quality and messaging of its videos.” Predictably, he denigrated leftwing discourse.
“These videos [Momentum videos] are simple, attractive, and eye-catching.”
“People believe what those they know tell them.”
“An associated problem is that social media largely dumbs down debate.”
“Communication has been democratised and those who shout loudest are, currently, cutting through.”
“Liberalism [Rowley meant free-market capitalism] takes more than a few hundred characters to explain. Socialism doesn’t.”
Despite his encouragement to the FREER disciples to get involved in online debate Rowley looked forward to newer forms of communication and debate.
“Perhaps, over the long-term, society will move back toward appreciating more considered, thoughtful, and nuanced views. Potentially, we are seeing the first shoots of that with increased subscriptions for pay-walled news sites, the growth of ‘longread’ journalism, and the development of ‘slow news’.”
“Pay-walled news sites” should keep the pesky riff-raff out. “Slow news” is a farcical invention of ex-Times and ex-BBC James Harding via his absurd dead-on-arrival Tortoise news site. Rowley chose to depict leftwing people as incapable or unwilling to tackle a “longread;” has he never tried to read Marx’s Capital?
The final chapter of Rowley’s deception-ridden paper was a plaintive cry that capitalism must “sell something” to younger people to convince them that it will improve their lives. By “convince” he meant “con.” He said the gofers for exploitative capitalism must find a new way of conning people into believing nonsense. He didn’t offer any details of this new method other than vague suggestions that focus should be on what can help people individually rather than what is better for the whole of society.
Rowley’s NGC was a spiritual guidebook on how the FREER disciples should concoct narratives to fool people. His intent was to indoctrinate the FREER disciples into repeating stock fraudulent soundbites and mini-arguments at the intended targets for whom they should have no respect.
It was a Tea Party document with slightly better grammar. The axioms of dishonesty were stated, followed by contortions of faux analysis, misappropriation of political definitions, ham-fisted analogies, Bannonesque terminology and supercilious attitudes toward the intended target of the propaganda.
Rowley asked why, if some people are doing alright then why do they care about those who don’t? Throughout Rowley sounded like a petulant loser who would not consider the reason for the loss. His conclusions withered as they were written.