This week Australian politicians were quick to comment on Twitter permanently suspending Donald Trump’s account.
Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Josh Frydenberg complained that ‘freedom of speech is fundamental to our society’. Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack was not far behind. ‘I don’t believe in that sort of censorship’, he contended.
Taking sides on whether Trump should be gagged is all well and good. The real issue starts with asking whether private companies should have the power to make decisions about the fundamental democratic right of free speech.
We need to ask why governments have ceded so much power to the private sector that they are in a position to make these decisions. Many single business organisations are as powerful, or even more powerful, than many governments.
Beyond free speech, this is about how politicians are still actively empowering corporations to control what should be matters of democratic deliberation.
How did we get to a situation where private companies representing private interests call the political shots?
One has to look at the broader sweep of history to answer this question. These politics come straight from the neoliberal hymn book.
It is all about liberating private enterprise by stripping out pesky regulations that interfere with business freedom to pursue its own goals.
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Small government and big business is the neoliberal mantra. The horse has well and truly bolted when corporations like Twitter have so much freedom that they are at liberty to make what essentially should be democratic decisions.
Just last year Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg was explicit in admitting that his political inspirations came from Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
He applauded the supply-side economics implemented by his 1980s idols as still the best policy for today. This doctrine is based on deregulating economic activity, radically reducing tax rates for business and the wealthy, and shrinking government.
The economic gains resulting from setting free corporate entrepreneurial chutzpah will naturally trickle down so that everyone benefits, or so the story goes.
It has failed, of course. The real economic effects of the 1980s neoliberal reforms have been widening inequality and the erosion of public services.
The political effects are equally disturbing. Central amongst these has been the massive expansion of corporate sovereignty.
The fact that Twitter has both the ability and nerve to be the arbiter of freedom of speech is a direct result of the broader freedoms willingly given to them by neoliberal governments.
For Frydenberg to now complain that he does not like corporations exercising that power shows an ignorance of the effects of the very political position he promotes.
If there is anything we can learn from last week’s events, it is not about whether or not Twitter made the right call on Trump. It is about why we have allowed things to go so far that they are in a position to make such a decision.
Small government has turned out to mean small democracy and big business.
Carl Rhodes is Professor of Organization Studies at The University of Technology Sydney
Peter Bloom is Professor of Management at The University of Essex