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62 N. Ir. Legal Q. 1 (2011)
Law and the Neoliberal Vision: Financial Property, Pension Privatisation and the Ownership Society

handle is hein.journals/nilq62 and id is 3 raw text is: NILQ62(1): 1-32

Law and the neoliberal vision: financial
property, pension privatisation and the
ownership society
PADDY IRELAND
Kent University
I Introduction
W      hen the financial crisis first broke, there was much speculation about whether it would
prove a historic watershed which marked the end of the neoliberal era. It is, of
course, still early days but there are, as yet, few signs that it will. On the contrary, the great
majority of policymakers clearly hope that by supplementing the unprecedented fiscal and
monetary stimuli which have already been administered with a dose of spending cuts,
mandated austerity and regulatory reform, things will return (more or less) to normal,
enabling a more sober and sustainable version of the old regime to emerge.' The result is
that at the moment the remnants of social democracy seem more likely to fall victim to the
crisis than neoliberalism. Even within the business community, however, there are doubts
about how far it will be possible to resume business as usual. Richard Lambert, outgoing
Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, for example, recently suggested
that the public and political response to what's happened will . . . have troubling
consequences, criticising everything from short-termism, executive pay and business
culture to shareholder value, hostile takeovers and foreign shareholders. Endorsing
Lambert's comments, John Plender of the Financial Times argued that something radical
ha[dj to be done if business was not to suffer from a permanent legitimacy deficit, while
Roger Bootle of Capital Economics thought there was a real crisis of capitalism about all
this.2 These hints that serious problems might be imminent have been echoed on the left.
With the conventional mantras about the ability of free markets and free trade, private
property and personal responsibility, and low taxes and minimalist state intervention in
I The remarkable degree of establishment consensus about this has been reflected in the quiet but growing
convergence around a regime of what Susan Watkins has called regulatory liberalism in which the main
components of the old regime - unfettered capital movements, free trade, small states, and private
ownership (not least of banks) - remain firmly intact: S Watkins, Shifting sands (Jan-Feb 2010) 61 New Left
Resiew 5, p. 13. She describes the crisis as having been eerily non-agonistic, p. 20.
2   R Lambert, Does business have a role as a 'force for good' in creating a more sustainable economic, social
and environmental future?, RSA/Sky Sustainable Business Lecture Series, 30 March 2010; J Plender, To
avoid a backlash, executives must act on pay, Financial Times, 2 April 2010; R Bootle, Executive pay: what
the experts say, The Guardian, 31 March 2010, www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/inar3l/executive-pay-
what-the-experts say. This nervousness perhaps explains the rather hysterical and paranoid business reaction
to Vince Cable's party conference speech in 2010.

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