Class Warfare Blog

March 3, 2017

Neoliberal Roots

I was reading a very good piece on the privatization of public education posted by the wonderful Yves Smith (Dismantling Public Education: Turning Ideology into Gold by Alex Molnar)—which I highly recommend—when a particular section struck me. Here it is in full:

“The major education reforms of the past 35 years — education vouchers, charter schools, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts — all seek to remove public schools from the control of elected bodies; to subject them to the ‘laws’ of the ‘market’; and to put them at the service of the economic elite. The world being called into existence is based on the belief that anyone, but not everyone, can succeed—a world of winners and losers, each of whom has earned his or her fate. Thus, as British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, one of neoliberalism’s foremost champions, proclaimed: “’There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

“This is a world in which the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.”

That final sentence rang a bell for me. It connected in my mind the current neoliberal disdain for the poor with the efforts of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration to address the ravages of the Great Depression. At that time (the 1930’s) the Roosevelt’s New Deal administration wanted to get money back in people’s hands by the shortest possible route. Many Americans were reluctant to admit they need the help but finally, driven by desperation, they applied for “relief.” But the rate at which the funds allocated to this were being disbursed was impossibly slow and Roosevelt ordered his right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, to look into it. It turned out that the people hired to distribute the funds were spending most of their time ensuring that the poor felt shame for their current state. So, before you could get a little money (it was a pittance), you first needed a heap of humiliation and shame just for asking. Hopkins put an end to then standard practice of shaming the poor and the money soon flowed much faster and people felt positive effects sooner.

So, what could be the source of this need on the part of large swaths of the American people to make sure that poor people feel shame associated with their economic state? Are Americans uncharitable? No, quite the contrary. So, what is it? A clue may be in the phrase quoted above “the poor must be judged by the rich to be ‘deserving’ of private charity rather than one that allows collective action through the democratic political process to secure the common welfare.” Americans tend to honor wealth as a sign of hard work and industry and business smarts. That honor conveys a certain rectitude as well as high social position. So, rather than Americans striving to be pigs at the public trough as they are oft portrayed by Neoliberals, they are just the opposite.

There is one more strain woven into this attitude and I think it is the Protestant Work Ethic which emphasizes that hard work, discipline, and frugality are a result of a person’s salvation in the Protestant faith. Taken to an extreme, the people wedded to this ideology condemn the poor because they obviously lack “hard work, discipline and frugality” otherwise they wouldn’t be in need of assistance.

This is yet another example of religion tainting otherwise worthy collective attempts to assist those less fortunate, especially in an age when the rich have transferred so much wealth out of middle class and poor pockets into their own.

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July 30, 2016

Why the Inequality?

Well, bubbie, it wasn’t by accident!

From How ‘Competitiveness’ Became One of the Great Unquestioned Virtues of Contemporary Culture by William Davies, a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London (Posted on July 30, 2016 by Yves Smith)

“I suggest that we need to understand how competition, competitiveness and, ultimately, inequality are rendered justifiable and acceptable – otherwise their sustained presence in public and private life appears simply inexplicable.

“And yet, this approach also helps us to understand what exactly has broken down over recent years, which I would argue is the following: At a key moment in the history of neoliberal thought, its advocates shifted from defending markets as competitive arenas amongst many, to viewing society-as-a-whole as one big competitive arena. Under the latter model, there is no distinction between arenas of politics, economics and society. To convert money into political power, or into legal muscle, or into media influence, or into educational advantage, is justifiable, within this more brutal, capitalist model of neoliberalism. The problem that we now know as the ‘1%’ is, as has been argued of America recently, a problem of oligarchy.

“Underlying it is the problem that there are no longer any external, separate or higher principles to appeal to, through which oligarchs might be challenged. Legitimate powers need other powers through which their legitimacy can be tested; this is the basic principle on which the separation of executive, legislature and judiciary is based. The same thing holds true with respect to economic power, but this is what has been lost.

“Regulators, accountants, tax collectors, lawyers, public institutions, have been drawn into the economic contest, and become available to buy. To use the sort of sporting metaphor much-loved by business leaders; it’s as if the top football team has bought not only the best coaches, physios and facilities, but also bought the referee and the journalists as well. The bodies responsible for judging economic competition have lost all authority, which leaves the dream of ‘meritocracy’ or a ‘level playing field’ (crucial ideals within the neoliberal imaginary) in tatters. Politically speaking, this is as much a failure of legitimation as it is a problem of spiralling material inequality.

“The result is a condition that I term ‘contingent neoliberalism’, contingent in the sense that it no longer operates with any spirit of fairness or inclusiveness. The priority is simply to prop it up at all costs. If people are irrational, then nudge them. If banks don’t lend money, then inflate their balance sheets through artificial means. If a currency is no longer taken seriously, political leaders must repeatedly guarantee it as a sovereign priority. If people protest, buy a water canon. This is a system whose own conditions are constantly falling apart, and which governments must do constant repair work on.”

June 27, 2016

Giving the Lie to GOP Desires for “Original Intent” Constitution Interpretations

The GOP has a desire, embodied previously in the person of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for the U.S. Constitution to be interpreted only on the basis of what the Framers intended when they drafted the document. This, of course, ignores the numerous times the Framers mentioned that they didn’t want to tie the hands of future generations, even providing the mechanism to amend the document and which they availed themselves of immediately with ten, count ‘em, ten amendments right off of the bat!

The Southern Baptist Convention has supplied a recent form of this desire for original intent in the form of a resolution:

RESOLVED, That we strongly urge the President to nominate strict constructionist judges who seek to make decisions based on the original intent of the United States Constitution and, therefore, faithfully interpret rather than make law or impose their political views on the nation . . .

This desire is just a smokescreen or, worse, it indicates the ignorance of the speakers. Too often, people in politics are perfectly happy to let others do their thinking for them and this yearning for a country defined by the “original intent of the Framers” may be one of them.

Ironically, the actions of this age’s neoliberal conservatives is acting in direct opposition to the intent of the Framers of the Constitution. Note I said “neoliberal,” not liberal. Neoliberals are acolytes of the “Free Market” who favor privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy. This is clearly a philosophy in service to oligarchs and the already wealthy.

The game plan of the neoliberals is to diminish collective actions and thinking on the part of U.S. citizens by convincing us that we are the sole determinant of our future, that we are individual actors, not groups or a society as a whole. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the U.K. and Robin to Ronald Reagan’s Batman (The roles might have been reversed in the U.K.), had the grace to state that idea in a straightforward manner when she said: “… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.”

Clear enough?

Does the phrase “divide and conquer” ring a bell?

Now, contrast this approach with that of the Framers of the Constitution. The Framers educated themselves on the life cycles of republics because it was clear to them from the beginning that we would be some form of self-governing republic. They were very focused on the death throes of those republics (“Half our learning is their epitaph.” Thomas Dawes, Jr.) All of the examples of republics available to them to study were, of course, failed republics (Greece, Rome, etc.). Most of the countries around the globe in the later 18th century were monarchies with kings and queens having some form of divine right to rule. There were no grand republics to model the U.S. on, all had failed at that point. So, they studied the source of the failures and tried to protect their creation from that. The lifeblood of a republic was, in their estimation, public virtue. By public virtue, they did not mean religious virtue (which may be the source of the Southern Baptist’s confusion) by public virtue they meant this:

“Public Virtue entailed firmness, courage, endurance, industry, frugal living, strength and above all, unremitting devotion to the weal of the public’s corporate self, the community of virtuous men.”
(Novus Ordo Seculorum, p. 70, my emphasis)

If I may quote John Adams (from a letter to Mercy Warren), “The must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power and Glory, established in the Minds of the people, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real liberty.” The public passion, he wrote, “must be superior to all private Passions. Men must … be happy to sacrifice … their private Friendships and dearest Connections, when they stand in Competition with the Rights of Society.”

So, the GOP, whose policies are in direct contradiction to the intent of the Framers are claiming the direct opposite. The Framers wanted us to put the needs of society over individual desires, the GOP wants you to put your and your family’s needs at the top and fuck the rest, they are on their own.

It is a Brave New World indeed!

 

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