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The Guardian view on pro-market thinking: ministers want it to survive Covid | Editorial

Historian Adam Tooze explains why, despite the pandemic, voters are still being told there is no alternative

Will the market revolution – the predominant ideology of our time – survive the pandemic? Events this week suggest that the UK government certainly hopes so. Ministers’ statements suggest a desire to return to a mode of governance where choices about resource distribution and priorities are dodged by mechanisms that depoliticise decision-making. The messaging from Whitehall is that if the worst of Covid is over, then Britain should return to policies that have failed. Earlier this week, the prime minister extolled the virtues of free market capitalism to tackle the climate emergency; the chancellor wants a “competitive” tax cut for City financiers; the Bank of England signalled a premature interest hike. These are moves to convince voters that, post-pandemic, the state must forfeit economic power to the market. Such a retrograde shift must be resisted.

The historian Adam Tooze’s recent book Shutdown explains how difficult it will be to change the course of the river of history. Last year the pandemic revealed that states did have the tools they needed to exercise control over the economy. They could – and did – spend whatever it took to deal with Covid. The UK state forked out £370bn from February 2020 to July 2021. The sky has not fallen in. Prof Tooze writes that the government’s “economic logic confirmed the basic diagnosis of interventionist macroeconomics back to Keynes. They could not but appear as harbingers of a new regime beyond neoliberalism.”

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