Last Sunday, the Prime Minister made it known to us that he was not Father Christmas. I’m not convinced. In fact, a close examination reveals a number of tell-tale signs, down to the habit of showering gifts on some and lumps of coal on others.
There would be a more technical way of putting it. In his analysis of contemporary politics, Noam Chomsky likes to use the expression “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor”. What he means is that, while the masses are left to take risks in the so-called free market, the privileged few tend to be afforded the safety of State benevolence. All markets are free but some are freer than others, shall we say.
The occasion of the Prime Minister’s disclaimer was a speech in which he announced that €50 million worth of passport sales would be spent on hundreds of new social-housing flats. Except the lousy old methods of State handouts for life, and the ‘free entitlement mentality’ they came with, were out.
In their place, a new meritocratic structure in which social workers would monitor the social mobility of tenants. As Muscat put it, “handing over the keys to an apartment will be just the start of a process… social housing will not enjoy perpetual lease as used to happen in the past… The ultimate objective will be for tenants to eventually have the necessary means to move out and make way for those in need.”
An uplifting tale of State-nourished social mobility, then, but one that lacks substance on many counts. For one, the image of cheeky people who drive sleek cars even as they continue to benefit from social housing they were given decades ago is a compelling one. It is also a bit of a straw man. While these types do exist, the majority of people who live in government flats are not quite millionaires.
Then there’s the manner, which is nothing if not highly devious and patronising. The money for social housing just had to come from the passport scheme, wink wink. The idea all along was welfare, you see. Truly a case of the poor will always be with you, when you need them.
They’re stupid poor, too, and fairly immoral. The social housing of old may have come to a fanfare of much socialist triumphalism, but I’ll have that any day over Muscat’s condescending schemes. These days, you don’t just get a flat. You also get your own resident social worker, who noses into your business and asks you to please move out the minute you start doing well. This is what Chomsky means by “capitalism for the poor”.
…a government that has perfected the fine art of perpetual State handouts to a small army of retainers, hangers-on and brown-nosers
That’s the nice bit. Not so charming to hear the Prime Minister attribute a “free entitlement mentality” to Doris of Block A, Entrance 6, Door 1, and to swear to teach her a lesson in self-improvement.
This is the same Prime Minister who leads a government that has perfected the fine art of perpetual State handouts to a small army of retainers, hangers-on and brown-nosers. There are so many examples that it’s hard to know where to begin.
A good start would be the State gifts of prime cuts of land, with all-you-can-eat permits flown in by private jet no less. Or the converts to the cause who reap tens of thousands in ghost consultancies while holding down full-time jobs elsewhere. Or maybe those whose property was valued and acquired by government at insane prices. Chomsky’s “socialism for the rich”, in other words.
Now the present Prime Minister and his government were not exactly the inventors of these kleptocratic routines. Still, they seem to have adapted very well indeed. Certainly I see no signs of a battle against a free entitlement mentality, nor does the rule of temporary lease apply. Doris aside.
The rot goes deeper than that. The other day I chanced across one of Labour’s prophets of growth (himself a State employee for life, of course) who was perorating on television about the need for workers to be flexible. Modern economies, he said, required people to constantly retrain and reinvent themselves as they flitted from one job opportunity to another.
The received wisdom, to be sure, but one that is also very lop-sided. Common people – the kind who might cohabit with social workers in government flats – indeed find themselves having to be flexible. The prophets tell them that it is their lot to be trapped in the perpetual present of the free market and growth. It’s waitering one day, call centre the next. Again, capitalism for the poor.
Trouble is, when it comes to their own working lives, the privileged use the word ‘flexibility’ only figuratively. I can think of no better example than politicians themselves, and their clients. They are rarely terribly keen to retrain or change jobs, but rather struggle to the last to prevent any sort of change.
For when their terms do run out at some point, they arrange for uncapped and multiple pensions. The uber-flexible even get to ‘retrain’ as presidents, EU commissioners or suchlike. For when even that is over, they arrange for free use of a car and driver for the rest of their days. Really, you can’t say they’re out of touch with the modern economy.
The Prime Minister likes to say on various topics that he won’t take lectures from the Nationalist Party. He may be right, but nor will we take lectures from him on free entitlement, handouts for life and perpetual lease.
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