Brussels has sent Pedro Sánchez this week to tell him to be careful not to take any measure that involves government interference in the price of electricity. That, according to EU rules, private suppliers are free to set the price to their customers. That governments can, in exceptional circumstances, take protection measures for the poorest or promote aid to improve energy efficiency in order to reduce consumption, but up to there. Crossing these red lines is an unacceptable “political intervention”, as the think tanks neoliberals any claim of the state to play a more active role in the market.
The energy sector -which in not so distant times was mostly in the hands of all Spaniards, it is never necessary to remember it- has become an extractive monopoly that obtains obscenely high profits while suffocating consumers with prices that every day break the record of the previous one. Some of the electricity companies even cheat their customers, as the National Market and Competition Commission has denounced this week. But, beware, beware of any temptation of “political intervention” to contain the chaos in one of the essential services for society, that it is known how it begins, but not how it ends.
“Political intervention” has become one of the most serious accusations that can be made to a politician today, at least to one who tries to enjoy good consideration in the dominant circles of power. The prevailing slogan is to let Mr. Market work without interference, who has studied in Chicago and knows what he is doing. The market regulates itself, without the need for political parasites to get their hands on it. Sometimes a misstep can happen, nothing in life is exempt from setbacks, but for situations like this there is the Invisible Hand, the galactic heroine who puts supply and demand at the table to get things back on track.
Many delusionals believed that neoliberalism had been humbled by the 2008 crisis and that, after the catastrophe, a new way of understanding capitalism would emerge. The then French President, Nicolás Sarkozy, even summoned the most distinguished of the world’s economists to promote a “re-founding” of the system, but, apart from spending a few days of good life in Paris, it was never known for sure which one. it was the proposal of such eminences. All of that belongs to the remote past. Thirteen years after the financial meltdown, the stark reality is that neoliberalism is stronger – and arrogant – than ever. Not only because of the unstoppable advance of globalization, free of political controls. Also, to a large extent, because the States rushed to help with astronomical amounts of public money to the private institutions responsible for the debacle, without demanding a sincere act of contrition for their conduct. That rescue plan was not, of course, political intervention. It was, let’s see if we understand each other, political realism: the world could not allow the bankruptcy of entities that, due to their size, could drag the system itself down. These companies were, as the fine analysts say in English, “too big to fail”, too big to fall. And now they are more so than then, so let’s prepare our pockets for the next crisis.
Neoliberalism is not only winning – or has it definitely won? – the war of facts. It has also remained victorious, for more than three decades, in the war of language. Linguist George Lakoff was already talking about this in 2004, who in his essay Don’t think of an elephant it starkly warned that the right wing had conquered the territory of storytelling with simple and effective messages, in the face of the impassivity of progressivism to construct a convincing story. One of the examples cited by the Berkeley professor was George W. Bush, whose strategists designed the slogan “tax relief” as a parapet to undertake a drastic reduction in taxes that favored in a very special way the richest and expanded unknown levels social cracks in the country. That was not political intervention, good gracious to us: it was a liberating act from the heavy burden borne by the citizens on account of the odious taxes. Something like what our vernacular Ayuso does today: reduce taxes in a generalized way in order to attract companies and generate more wealth, which will already affect this for the benefit of all citizens through the ‘irrigation effect’; meanwhile, social investment collapses due to lack of income, the public health service deteriorates, public education is abandoned to its fate. Nor here can we speak of political intervention; the corifeos of the Madrid president have already found the right name for it: “economic miracle.”
I don’t know if Pedro Sánchez will go ahead with his plan to create a public company to manage the hydroelectric plants as the current private concessions expire. Or what solution will it finally give to the outrages against citizens by the electricity companies. Nor do I know what solution you intend to give to the housing crisis, which has thirty-somethings living six to a floor. Or to the undesirable consequences for social cohesion that are having the privatizations of health or the growing abandonment of the public education system. What I think I am sure of is that the president would not want to be accused of political intervention for the world. This is too serious an accusation in these times. Look if not at Sánchez’s rivals, those who have managed to get Brussels to warn the Spanish Government against any temptation to intervene in market prices: they have accused them of corruption, of creating secret police against their adversaries, of handling B boxes, of having responsibility in the tragedy of the residences, of having dismantled the Spanish public sector, of favoring with public contracts the friends of the party, of allying with an extremist formation that would be ostracized in the surrounding countries … They will be able to say anything of them, but yes: never, ever, can they be accused of political intervention.