Failing upwards

You have been very publicly sacked from your job and the mistakes you made have had dire consequences for society. When planning your next steps do you; a) rethink your career goals and consider doing something different with less responsibility; b) go for a job you’re completely unqualified for; or c) go for a big promotion with even greater stakes for society? I assume most of us would go for a), and even if we wanted to, we wouldn’t have the option of b) or c) without facing rejection.

However, that’s not the case for former chancellor George Osborne, who after presiding over the worst economic recovery in recorded history, with severe and deadly public spending cuts, went for option b) and managed to become the editor of the Evening Standard – a job for which he is totally unqualified.

And how has that gone? Losses of £11.5m aren’t too shabby. So, sensing now is the time to cut and run, he’s in the running for the top job at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yes, it’s yet another example of a privately educated white male failing upwards. But it also shows us how without an ideological change at the top we are stuck with the same pool of arrogant neoliberals.

There are many reasons why having Osborne as the managing director of the IMF is undesirable, but let’s just start with his record. Osborne was the mastermind of the austerity programme which has brought untold and widespread misery in the UK. Whether it be the doubling of rough sleeping, 130,000 related deaths, a social care crisis or thousands of teachers leaving education, his programme has taken this country backwards.

It has also been a lesson in bad economics. Osborne’s extraction of public funds just when the private sector was also flagging meant that the recovery that had been building under Gordon Brown was choked off. The average worker has still not seen their wages recover to pre-financial crisis levels.

Most sinister was Osborne’s ability to construct a narrative about “Labour’s overspending” that misled the entire country about the need for his cuts. But perhaps knowing how to mislead and gaslight a whole country while categorically missing your own targets are just the right qualifications for an international financial institution.

In many ways Osborne’s economic approach is straight out of the IMF’s economic playbook. Both the IMF and the World Bank have a history of imposing hugely damaging structural adjustment programmes on low- and middle-income countries, saddling them with crippling debts. Christine Lagarde may have shown a recent interest in safeguarding aspects of public spending, but it’s too little too late for the outgoing IMF head.

Just like Osborne, this institution seems largely unaware of the dark role it has played in shaping the world. The lack of self-awareness and humility isn’t just an individual thing, it exists within our institutions.

Employing someone such as Osborne to head up the IMF would be confirmation that our major global economic institutions planned to continue with neoliberal economics regardless of the evidence that shows we must change course to deliver both climate and social justice.

We have a long history of unleashing the worst of the British bourgeoisie on the rest of the world. Seeing Osborne as he pushes for the IMF job is reminiscent of the absurd situation of former prime minister, Tony Blair, being given the coveted role of Middle East peace envoy after starting a devastating war in Iraq. Yes, we can blame him for being arrogant, but why do decision-makers of these important global institutions keep rewarding failure? Is it because they don’t see them as failures?

Stopping Osborne from being the new managing director of the IMF would barely make a dent in our problems. What we need to change is an ingrained culture that still sees power as white, posh, male and from the west, and is obsessed with protecting the status quo. Without this broader demand for fundamental reform, reality will continue to seem like a sick joke.



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