Owen Jones uses an impressive amount of official government data to present what some critics have predictably deemed a conspiracy theory. Such an obvious and flattering denunciation only proves what we already know: Jones has the establishment clutching at their golden little straws.
Jones's new book, The Establishment and How They Get Away With It, offers a diagnosis of modern Britain that validates the suspicions of folks like me who feel disillusioned with politics. We suspect that the powerful seek only to consolidate their power. We suspect that Britain is becoming increasingly undemocratic. We suspect that private interests take precedence over the public good. Our suspicions occasionally spark discussions during university seminars or, in my case, during midnight lock-ins. Our suspicions sometimes lead to grassroots protests and signs embellished with sardonic slogans.
Jones's critical analysis has installed a healthy dose of credibility to our suspicions. My late-night, drunken diatribes have thus been immediately galvanized and will be, from this moment on, far more convincing and comprehensive.
In The Establishment and How They Get Away With It, Jones embarks on a systematic critique of the various political, corporate and economic institutions that seek to consolidate the interests of the few at the expense of the many. Jones rips into politicians, corporations, media barons, the police force and plenty of others in a vast interconnected tale of legal, and not so legal, corruption. This, admittedly, sounds like a conspiracy theory - or a brief description of David Simon's The Wire - and yet the evidence that Jones utilizes is too comprehensive to ignore.
Jones describes the establishment as a group of 'mostly unelected and unaccountable people who really do rule the roost.' These folk are made up of 'powerful groups that need to protect their position in a democracy in which almost the entire adult population has the right to vote'. The establishment are not freemasons, they don't wear dark robes and Jay-Z is not an active member. Rather they exist in plain sight - manipulating the system to achieve their avaricious goals. They have an unhealthy obsession with the 'not-so-free' free market and use this as the ideological basis through which they vindicate their objectives.
Jones's work seeks to expose the hypocrisy of this free market ideology. The free market is, apparently, based on rewarding hard work and ingenuity. Thus if a small coffee shop fails, for example, then this failure can be attributed to its inability to compete against healthy competition. It shouldn't be subsidized because, according to free market ideology, it isn't worth saving. If a large corporation fails, however, it seems that it's in the interest of the so-called free market to subsidize this company - which, of course, has nothing to do with corporate representatives who have direct connections with influential politicians.
The free market in its imagined form - as Ha-Joon Chang exposes in his book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism - amounts to little more than a myth. The free market in its current form, as Jones argues, is riddled with obvious contradictions that favour the interests of the establishment - often at the expense of the public good.
These contradictions, for Jones, unveil the inherent hypocrisy of this ideology. Free market proponents condemn the welfare state, nationalized industries and big government and then overlook dependence on big government welfare to support large industries. The free market, Jones explains, is nothing more than a deceitful con that allows the wealthy to collect the profits while taxpayers inherit the losses. This can be broadly encapsulated by Jones's oft-invoked maxim - different permutations of which have been offered by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Noam Chomsky - that it is 'socialism for the rich and sink or swim capitalism for the poor.'
These inherent contradictions and this blatant hypocrisy are particularly offensive, Jones argues, considering the apparent wisdom of austerity. The state slashes welfare for the poor and yet continues to subsidize the rich. The state justifies such measures by alluding to a failing economy - which was caused by the rich. Such justifications are of course ratified by the media, who have an active interest in the consolidation of the order of the establishment. They seek to redirect anger away from the establishment - the wealthy - towards the poor. The calls for a crack down on benefit fraud - which costs the taxpayer £1.2 billion - grace the front pages while corporate tax avoidance - which costs the taxpayer £25 billion - doesn't seem worth the ink. Welfare for those who need it suffers while welfare for those who don't flourishes.
There is, of course, a cure for this ostensibly bleak diagnosis. Jones's solutions to the obvious problems operate under that often forgotten ideal of common sense. We need, according to Jones's conspiracy theory, a democratic revolution. This involves mass activism, more power for trade unions, an end to corporate welfare, the slamming shut of the 'revolving door', regulations on the 'mediaocracy', the cessation of corporate finance and quite a bit more.
Thankfully, there have been advancements in this direction - notably the various grassroots movements and some convincing intellectual arguments - but this isn't enough. We are facing an almost impervious opposition who have an extensive means of manipulation at their behest. It is not an easy road, Jones argues, but if we show strength and solidarity -perhaps adding a little common sense - we can reinstate true democracy and thus prioritize the needs of the many.
The Establishment and How They Get Away With It is an important book. It will make the reader, as Irvine Welsh claims, enlightened and angry. It will add momentum to grassroots movements, university discussions and pub diatribes. It will, finally, convince a few more people to use their common sense in order to accept, or at the very least acknowledge, Mr Jones's conspiracy theory.