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Nothing described here is likely to be unfamiliar to anyone in the ‘South’, where national policy has almost always been largely driven by external market forces, backed by foreign political and military power. One could say that ‘dependency’ now affects all countries except the USA. Of course there are big differences of degree, but the policy regime of even a major post-industrial state like Britain is no longer as radically different from that of a ‘banana republic’ as most people in Britain imagine. The installation of management consultants in key government policy-making posts is not entirely unlike the installation of officers from the World Bank in the ministries of an African state. Structural adjustment is in progress in both. 

Thanks to Thatcher and Blair, Britain has advanced farther and more willingly along this path than other west European countries, and since cultural change lags behind material change the gap between reality and official rhetoric may be larger than elsewhere. Perhaps inherited ideas and illusions about sovereignty, democracy and the public interest confront the new reality of global market forces and corporate power more starkly than in other comparable countries. (59) But all countries must now travel more or less the same path, for the same reason: policy-making must always try to conceal the basic fact that economic and social policy has to now be made on capital’s terms. This is not something voters like to be told, and the policies capital demands are often electorally unpalatable. As far as possible, therefore, these policies are increasingly made in secret and their likely effects concealed.

(59) A conjunctural factor of some importance in the British case was the determination of Blair, Brown and Mandelson to ‘outspin’ the right-wing media that had trashed the efforts of the party’s former leader, Neil Kinnock, to return Labour to power in 1992. Although Oborne (in The Rise of Political Lying) is hostile witness, it is hard to dispute his judgment that what began as an understandable reaction to victimization ended up as ‘the useful lies of the ruling class’.

The dismantling of the higher civil service inherited from the late nineteenth century corresponds to the substitution of the rationality of the market for the instrumental rationality of a bureaucracy. A preference for entrepreneurs – whether actual businessmen seconded in from the private sector, or civil servants with entrepreneurial personalities and outlooks – focused on ‘getting things done’, and an impatience with bureaucrats professionally concerned with the wider implications of policy (‘ensuring all points of view are considered’ with, no doubt, a sometimes irritating touch of noblesse oblige), makes sense in these terms. (60) The state becomes not just more and more responsive to capital, but more and more closely integrated with it. And the risks involved are not borne by the new entrepreneurs of the state – any more than they are in today’s corporate world – but by the public.

(60) Barbara Harriss-White suggests that ‘perhaps the new entrepreneurialism is a transfer to the state of a social institution developed for the quite different “factor endowments” of the firm, where entrepreneurial behaviour is rewarded with monopoly rents; or is it perhaps a mask used cynically by both capital and the state because the ‘rent’ is the consolidation of a totalizing system?’ (personal communication).

I am very grateful to Barbara Harriss-White for extensive and creative comments on an earlier draft of this essay.