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.

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