Uncommon Sense

May 31, 2018

The Insidiousness of Neoliberalism

aka The Empire Strikes Back

It may end up being a great irony but the grand American Experiment, the first major attempt at modern self-government (We don’t need no stinkin’ royalty.”), may end up having been created under a misapprehension.

When the U.S. Constitution was created the “founders/drafters” assumed (there’s that word again) that the “people” in power, running the government for “the People,” would be folks just like them: wealthy landowners who had the education and the time to apply their experience and powers of thought to the enterprise. I imagine that it was quite a shock to them when in short order, the propertied, wealthy (male) class was eschewed for politicians of the “middling” sort (merchants, craftsmen, you know “middling” types). I love the sheer disdain embedded in the term middling.

Well, never mind, the natural superiority of the wealthy class will win out, plus there was money to make in expanding the borders of the country and reaping the harvest provided by their god. Just clear off the Indians and bring in the salves and voila! When that was fairly well done, the wealthy got back to wealth accumulation in the forms of gold and property resulting ultimately in the Gilded Age of the late 1880’s–1890’s. Labor was oppressed, racism was rampant, women were subdued, and technology was creating opportunities to make money hand over fist. There were so many immigrants seeking work that wages were so low that the wealthy had servants galore. Gosh, can it get any better than this?

A small hiccough fell into the process of elevating the rich, and keeping them elevated, in the form of the Great Depression and World War II, the aftermath being a common understanding in ordinary Americans that “we were all in this together” and paying attention to the common good as opposed to solely individual rights was “a good thing.” That couldn’t be allowed to continue, of course, as that attitude was blocking the return of the rich to their rightful place of guiding society (for their own benefit, of course). The New Deal had to be remade into the “No Deal” of Donald Trump.

Then along came neoliberalism (beginning slowly in the early twentieth century, a horse the rich could ride where they wanted to go (back to the top). Neoliberalism exalted the individual, eschewed any kind of collective action by citizens save the military and police (to protect wealth from theft) and courts (to protect contracts). Free markets were the mechanism that would deliberate societal concerns, those and the innate actions of individuals as economic actors with free will (and greed). Think Ayn Rand here. Think the Koch brothers.

“Realize that the neoliberals are not working toward their ideal world, they are putting the finishing touches on it right now.”

Neoliberalism involves the elevation of individuals and the diminishment (or elimination) of collective action and any responsibility to the environment, the future (our children), the body politic, or people in general. Corporations that used to have major goals like “to be good citizens in their communities,” now are guided solely by the goal of increasing shareholder value, a concept that is bogus in the first place but serves the goals of neoliberalism, so it was elevated.

This is becoming hardwired into our culture. While I am very grateful for all that has been done to make my life what it is, via a quite inexpensive education down to a system of roads that encourages me to travel, the idea of gratitude is being reduced to “acknowledgement of a debt,” something only losers would acknowledge. The idea of debt forgiveness has been eliminated from many branches of our culture, especially Christianity (a long term effort). Consider the Lord’s Prayer. The specific variants I address are those which say “and forgive us our debts” versus those who say “and forgive us our trespasses.” In the ancient world debt jubilees were quite common, a period at the end of which all debts had to be settled or forgiven. It was hard-wired into Judaism but struggles to find any footing in Christianity or the modern world. Debt forgiveness was eliminated along the way in favor of debtor’s prisons and “pounds of flesh” and the IMF.

Neoliberals prefer the version of the Lord’s Prayer that uses the word “trespasses” (surprise, surprise), but I remember my mother saying the prayer in church, using the word “debts.” A 2000 year old argument that neoliberals have come down on one side of.

Since individuals are paramount, only the “deserving” warrant government help and there are very few of those in neoliberal minds. Blacks are shiftless and dangerous “takers.” Hispanics are lazy and untrustworthy, etc. Both breed too much.

In neoliberalism capitalism is exalted while removing all obligation of capitalists to the larger society (via the cult of shareholder value) as mentioned. “Free markets” and “competition” are promoted but the neoliberals really prefer market capture (think of Microsoft in its boom days, not quite a monopoly but close enough, and all of its anti-competitive actions) with government protection thrown in (think of the bank bailouts of 2008-9).

The foot shoulders of this movement have primarily been Republicans, you know, the “Family Values” proponents. To them, though, a family is lead by an individual, a man of course, making the family an extension of an individual. All of their “family values” stem from there … well as long as the individual men acknowledge the authority of a higher power, for whom the wealthy are a stand in and for whom all of the major religions work.

“The neolibs claim to want to shrink big government, yet they never actually do it. Governmental power is how they will enforce their will over the masses. They do not want less of it, no matter what they say.”

Privatization of public enterprises (schools, post offices, military, etc.) were initially lauded because “government = bad” but when that argument didn’t fly, they carried the water on this effort claiming the government was inefficient, that private ownership and competition would make for a more efficient effort. They ignored the fact that competition creates winners and losers and when it came to our children and delivering the mail, we didn’t want winners and losers. All of the data, so far, have shown the efforts to privatize schools have been less than successful, more costly, and worse, rife with corruption, so evidence is being ignored over ideology (and campaign contributions). The point of strategies like privatization, though, are not just about a preference for the private sector over the public sector, the goal of these strategies is to radically alter power relations, weakening pro-public forces and enhancing the lobbying power and commitment of the corporations that take over public services and resources, thus advancing the plans to dismantle democracy and make way for a return to oligarchy. The majority will be held captive so that the wealthy can finally be free to do as they please, no matter how destructive.

Neoliberalism is, at its core, anti-democratic.

And if you want to see the world as these oligarchs see it, all you need do is open your eyes. When Black citizens in Missouri protested police brutality, they were met with riot police and tear gas and arrests and dogs and prosecutions. But when white supremacists staged a protest rally, the police attacked those opposing the protest. Neoliberals definitely see things in black and white terms. Similarly there are myriad examples of polls of voters identifying things like laws requiring universal background checks to buy guns, but on which Congress still acts to benefit their donors, like the NRA lobbyists. The chances of getting legislation passed that was requested by poor people is zero and by rich people, near 100%. But realize that the neoliberals are not working toward their ideal world, they are putting the finishing touches on it right now.

As additional proof, look at state power being used to reduce state power. If the Republicans are in charge, they use the federal government’s power to restrict the state’s powers and the state’s powers to restrict local government’s power. In Oklahoma, fracking was causing hundreds if not thousands of earthquakes. Several local governments passed rules that limited the rights of frackers in their municipalities until the science of the earthquakes could be pinned down and fixed. The response? The Oklahoma legislature (and Texas, and …) passed a law forbidding the local governments from intervening and the frackers kept working. Localities pass a $15 minimum wage and some states respond by withdrawing the power of the munis to do that.

Neoliberalism is a-n-t-i-d-e-m-o-c-r-a-t-i-c, boys and girls.

The neolibs claim to want to shrink big government, yet they never actually do it. Reagan didn’t do it. G.W. didn’t do it and D.T. won’t do it. Governmental power is how they will enforce their will over the masses. They do not want less of it, no matter what they say.

If I may quote a recent book author:

The United States is now at one of those historic forks in the road whose outcome will prove as fateful as those of the 1860s, the 1930s, and the 1960s,” writes Duke Historian Nancy MacLean. “To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as Calhoun and Buchanan both called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.

Neoliberalism is a cult of the individual in a collective enterprise (one man, one vote, no?). It is no surprise that those who advocate “we each go it alone” are those best equipped to do so (the wealthy). The bigger question is: will we let them get away with it? We have so far.


  1. Nicely presented Steve

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by lbwoodgate — May 31, 2018 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

    • Woody! Thanks! It might be different if the wealthy were proffering a viable system, but the naked aggression of their attempt (allow us to rule or else) is astonishing … and scary. I don’t want to be part of the generation that tanked democracy as we know it.

      On Thu, May 31, 2018 at 1:51 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 31, 2018 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

  2. Only the guil

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Holding The Line In Florida — May 31, 2018 @ 2:36 pm | Reply

  3. Steve, I’m getting rather worried about you. This latest post reveals yet another and rather startling lack of nuance and insight I’ve become accustomed to typical in your commentary.

    There was no misapprehension about the people; the revolution was clearly intended to assert that authority for consent to be governed rested with the individual man and not – as any first year history student should know – in a blood based British primogeniture system of inheritance, that all sons (men) were born equal for the purpose of inheritance. It is a gross and uneducated opinion that the Declaration awarded equal rights and freedoms to all people. No. Obviously it didn;t if one bothers to ever read it in its entirety. And to keep this newly minted bottom-up democratic system from becoming mob rule (as we see throughout the world every time a popular movement chucks the governing system and awaits the leadership of a strongman), the founders supported a deciding body with ‘skin in the game’ so to speak to ensure the new system would never become mob rule under a strongman: the electoral college. Look at the historical requirements to be a member of this deciding College. This is where the ultimate political authority rests. This is not, as you suggest, a misapprehension; it is a calculated means to have a representative government including and overseen by those who have the most to lose, those whose business ownership represents the engines of the economy. And that’s not the average city dwelling worker or rural migrant worker but – at that time – landowners with deep economic ties to their land and the communities of people that sustained their production. Without this real politik recognition in action, no revolution of the people, by the people, for the people can survive becoming some kind of authoritarian state. I would have thought you of all people who recognize this ‘nuance’ more than most because this is the key element to a successful democratic revolution: shared fundamental rights and freedoms in law for all overseen by those with the most to lose.

    It is all too easy to go along with Post Modern bullshit about egality being synonymous with equality and enjoy the armchair moral superiority that accompanies such a simplistic and naive and unhinged viewpoint. It’s a little more difficult and challenging to understand reality, to appreciate that equality of opportunity is not the same as equity of outcome. Put another way, imposing egalitarianism principles of outcomes outside of its meaning of shared fundamental rights in law for each individual before the law is a guaranteed way to destroy a civil society and replace it with a fundamentally authoritarian and corrupt system. That recognition of how realty operates is how the Great Experiment has evolved and expanded – and continues to evolve and expand – to include not just the landed gentry but each citizen. Obama represents a milestone in this slow moving change and the first woman President will represent another. It’s a process that is not aided by creating this imaginary world of neoliberals running the shop.

    There will always be tension between competing segments of any society with power shifts and cycles and the current equity imbalance simply is on a trajectory to become a model that cannot be profitable… and so it will change. Holding fast to the principles of equality in law while recognizing the inequality from economic disparity that hurts everyone over time is a necessary first step in correcting it… not by imposing a short-sighted social model of egalitarianism doomed to fail and guaranteed to produce an authoritarian state in law, but by understanding why the corrective process can only come about peacefully by getting everyone on the same side: their own!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by tildeb — May 31, 2018 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

    • I was not talking about needing to be a land owner to vote, I was talking about the drafters of the Constitution assuming that elected leaders would be people of their class, namely the wealthy. Having to actually work a job was seen as being unsuitable to being a leader. The Founders worried about people who did not have wealth and how money would affect them when they got into power (James Madison for one, but there were many who worried about bribery).We started from a point where only men of property were given the right to vote. That I understand. (I am a fan of skin in the game as a concept.) If you were female, Black, or an Indian, you didn’t vote … then. Since then we have extended the franchise.as it were. Again, I have no problem with that. we are moving to a system not in which a large part of the campaign donations, for example are being provided by fewer than 200 families. Since I became politically aware we have a Dem party that has drifted to being center-right and a Republican party that has drifted to far right and much of this has been driven by political money from people who are quite neoliberal. Studies show that legislation promoted by middle class groups or poor groups have no chance of passing in Washington. I didn’t make that up. I didn’t even mention that Mr. Obama’s Supreme Court nominee was stiffed as no other candidate has ever before, maintaining a conservative majority on that court which has made some rather bizarre moves in the past 20 years, eschewing all kinds of established law and gone off on very unusual tangents, tangents that have plutocrats.

      I am not an egalitarianist, but if we want to preserve our “pay as you go” culture, we need to stop suppressing wages and give anyone willing to work full time at a real job, a living wage.

      To the neolibs, any collective action by “the people” is to be suppressed. Labor unions have to go. Collective bargaining rights have to go. Advances on both of these fronts have been significant over the past 40 years.

      The politics being used to advance these issues is disingenuous at best.

      On Thu, May 31, 2018 at 3:34 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — May 31, 2018 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

      • You were talking about neoliberalism and contrasting this with group identity politics and the ideology of socialism. Classical liberalism is as you know founded on the individual possessing inalienable rights and freedoms. We should never, ever, lose sight of this foundation. This fundamental principle of authority is what’s put at risk when certain inequalities are raised and the ‘solution’ is to switch authority to some kind of group membership. This is what worries me about your recent writing, leaning more and more towards this way of viewing the world through power imbalances, and suggesting some plot by conspirators to thwart any move towards regulation and oversight of how power is exercised. This ideological framing is what worries me even though the subjects of inequality you raise are important. The founders never had any intention of being ruled by a strongman – whether from the city slums or raised in the luxury of the very wealthy. But to guard against this, the fundamental principle must place full authority for autonomy in each individual at birth – the individual at that time being white and male and landed, which is what made perfect sense at that time to gain consensus to create a ‘people’ called Americans. The fact that this assumption has changed and expanded dramatically over time without destroying the model or individual authority and autonomy in law is testament to its universal power. Switching to empowering group authority is a direct attack on this principle and that where the PoMo ideological framing inevitably leads.


        Comment by tildeb — June 1, 2018 @ 11:28 am | Reply

        • Re “This is what worries me about your recent writing, leaning more and more towards this way of viewing the world through power imbalances, and suggesting some plot by conspirators to thwart any move towards regulation and oversight of how power is exercised.”

          This is a Class Warfare blog. I started it because I saw a pattern of behavior on the part of people with money and power to concentrate both of those in undemocratic ways. If you want to accuse me of identity politics, then the ones I see most often are the 0.1% and the rest of us. I also see our culture breaking down in key places. We had been on a pace to reduce overt racism through social pressure, but the advent of, in my opinion, anonymous discourse on the Internet has lead to a resurgence of overt racism. When I mention Blacks and Browns as being targets of such racism, I simple am pointing to facts, I am not advocating from them other than as the objects of racism. When I point to the fact that wages have been suppressed through perfectly legal means over the past 50 years, I am simply pointing to one class in the class war disadvantaging another class with the motivation to acrue even more power and more wealth.

          My point about the founders which is not mine but that of a fair number of scholars was that the elites of the time assumed that they would be running things. The references to white males was simply to point out that their assumptions were broad, but the key one I point to is the expectation that wealthy elites would be the political leaders was assumed by the founders as being obvious. James Madison, in particular wrote, about the dangers of money and political influence, I believe in support for the position that the rich were immune to such blandishments and so they would be the best choice as leaders.

          My theme, and possible my only theme (regarding the class war), is that the some of the very wealthy in the country are working day and night to undermine our democracy, leaving them in charge. I am not the only one making this claim. For example: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/may/31/takers-or-makers-how-americans-decide-who-deserves-a-safety-net?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=276697&subid=8010137&CMP=GT_US_collection

          On Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 11:28 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — June 1, 2018 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  4. That’s a fascinating term, “those with the most to lose”. It merits analysis in and of itself.


    Comment by The Pink Agendist — June 1, 2018 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

  5. Reblogged this on Citizens, not serfs.


    Comment by conartistocracy — June 4, 2018 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  6. Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating.


    Comment by A6er — June 5, 2018 @ 9:36 am | Reply

  7. And of course, the actual American Neoliberal Party IS the DNC/DEMOCRATIC PARTY of Obama, Clinton, and Tom Perez … and leaves us Americans with a one party system distinguished only by slightly different costumes … but the same ruling class agenda.


    Comment by Zach — June 7, 2018 @ 3:28 pm | Reply

    • Yep, the corporate Democrats took over in the 1980’s and we are just waking up to that fact.

      We now have one center-right party and one far right party. I am thinking about joining the American Socialist Party.

      On Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 3:28 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 8, 2018 @ 9:39 am | Reply

      • I was going join the Mickey Mouse Club, but then realized they are the Democratic Party!
        Seriously … at a bit of a loss as to where to roost Party wise. Bleak. Think we have a whole bunch more chaos to endure before something I want to join appears. I mean, here in New York we have a Sex and the City celebrity runnng to unseat our Democratic governor. Joy, joy. Lest we forget our new Get Out of Jail czar, Kim Kardashian! Hell, if Diane Feinstein plays her cards right, she can become the first woman, law and order, corporate Democratic President to turn 100 in office.


        Comment by Zach — June 8, 2018 @ 10:13 am | Reply

        • If Andrew Cuomo is a real democrat, then we are all doomed. The only way he is a Dem is from inheriting the label from his father.

          On Fri, Jun 8, 2018 at 10:13 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — June 8, 2018 @ 10:49 am | Reply

          • Andrew is NOT a good Democrat. But I am not particularly excited about a supposed ‘progressive’ Sex and the City TV celebrity. So, yes, we be in trouble.


            Comment by Zach — June 8, 2018 @ 11:00 am | Reply

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