Towards Social Accountability
Chapter 4: The neo-liberalisation of big business: disembedding or re-regulating?
Central to the agenda of the UK Conservative governments under Margaret Thatcher was the political destruction of the social democratic business paradigm of publicly owned/controlled industries, centralised trade union bargaining and Keynesian management of the economy. This was a political assassination because, as Vogel comments in the case of the telecommunications industry, ‘neither British Telecommunications (BT), nor telecom equipment manufacturers, nor users ever demanded that the government privatise BT or introduce competition in basic telephone services’ (Vogel 2005, p._4). Rather, the new regime replaced social democratic institutions through a gradual but eventually systematic application of neo-liberal policy and ideology. This mission turned the accountability conundrum inside out. No longer would the accountability conduits run from society – albeit via government – into business. Instead the exchange relationships, believed to be at the heart of the business enterprise, would be expanded so that ‘market disciplines’ would render executives accountable to investors, and contracting businesses accountable to public authorities in terms of price and delivery efficiencies. Other businesses were regarded as accountable to a society conceived as a mosaic of different contractors or ‘customers’. Market institutions would be regulated by market institutions. Contemporary corporate power cannot be understood without analysis of this neo-liberal re-engineering of business accountability. The insurgent neo-liberals characterised nationalised industries as being dogged by ‘inefficiency, excessive costs, uneconomic investments, old and outdated products, little innovation, little responsiveness to customer preferences’ (Littlechild 2003, p. 4).
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