Truss Busters

I’m not big on schadenfreude, but I confess to satisfaction over the swift collapse of the Truss government in the United Kingdom. Named prime minister by the Tories less than two months ago and charged with reviving a stagnant, inflation-riddled economy, Truss proposed, without a smidge of humility or doubt, a return to hardcore Reagan-Thatcherism — the very ideology that created the UK’s mess in the first place. Remember that old definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? The British people concluded that Liz Truss is insane. Six days ago the Daily Mail reported that her approval rating was just 16%. Then it got worse.

But that alone didn’t compel her to resign. The Tories have the right to delay the next general election until January 2025, more than enough time for Truss to rehabilitate her public image. What truly ended her reign was a vote of no confidence from the business and financial communities.

On the one hand that’s ironic, because those were the constituencies she most sought to please. Her economic plan included tax cuts for the wealthy and regulatory rollbacks.

On the other hand it’s appalling, because it confirms what so many of us sense (with reason), which is that the democracy we’re so desperately fighting to save has never been the true source of power in our societies, and elected leaders rule only with the consent of the wealthy elite.

But on the third hand it’s weirdly hopeful.

Capitalism has a simple moral system: profit is good, loss is evil, and the more profit the better. That’s repellent because the full range of human potential and energy is subordinated to economic utility, and because excess, destruction, disruption, and inequality are excused in the name of wealth production. We are, all of us, so much more than workers and consumers — and our planet is so much more than a source of plunder.

But capitalism’s simplistic moral system isn’t entirely bad. It has a contempt for delusion that other moral systems, including religion, sadly lack. When economic oligarchs perceive a threat to profit, even when it’s packaged as free market orthodoxy, they’re not sentimental or dogmatic — they veer from that threat. Same when it comes to opportunities for profit: oligarchs don’t care if it’s labeled socialist or decadent, they move toward it.

The wealthy know better than true believers like Liz Truss that Reagan-Thatcherism worked only in the short term and created or exacerbated the economic problems the world suffers from today. They aren’t willing to repeat that mistake, so Truss had to go — the right call.

Just as it’s the right call when insurance companies, not exactly citadels of political liberalism, have no time for climate change denialism and instead charge inflated premiums — or withdraw coverage altogether — for property owners living in flood-prone areas of Florida and fire-prone areas of California.

And just as it’s the right call when the nascent environmental, social, and governance (ESG) movement divests from companies whose behavior endangers future profitability, even as right-wing state governments in the US seek to regulate ESG out of existence in blatant contradiction to their longstanding hands-off approach to private enterprise. (There are legitimate concerns about ESG from a broader perspective, but the state bills aim mostly to protect local extractive industries.)

Not all members of the one percent are exclusively focused on profit; some are right-wing ideologues, many of them more extreme than Liz Truss. But crazy as it sounds, at this point in history the political center and moderate left may have more to gain from an alliance with our corporate overlords than with the government, whose executive, legislative, and judicial branches are likely to become right-wing authoritarian bastions in the near future. We don’t share moral systems with the wealthy, but we have in common a clear-eyed understanding of right-wing extremism, which endangers the health — and wealth — of us all.

Official photo of Liz Truss.
Buh-bye! (Liz Truss official photo.)

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Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.

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Andy Goldblatt

Former Risk Manager at UC Berkeley, author of four books, ectomorphic introvert.