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Neoliberal concept of freedom as bait and switch

The idea of freedom is a central figure in the ideology of neoliberalism. In the contemporary context, neoliberals argue that rolling back regulations and the marketization of social life create more choices and thus more freedom.

While this position in fact dissimulates the increasing powerlessness of ordinary people, it also has roots in older philosophical arguments-in particular in the work of the economist and philosopher F.A. Hayek, whose thought has been a central inspiration for neoliberal policy.

Hayek concept  of freedom is central myth that allowed neoliberalism current hegemony.  Hayek treatment of concept of freedom is a very high level sophistry and it demostrates how dangerious this isiolog was.

In spite of the failures and suffering produced by neoliberalism in practice, it retains a moral appeal for many, and not only those who are its principal beneficiaries. This appeal rests on the supposed symbiosis-and even identification-of neoliberalism (and capitalism itself) with freedom.

We need to reveal the specific structures of violence used by neoliberal and the fakeness of the concept of neoliberal freedom. See Neoliberalism and the Contradictions of Freedom by Noah De Lissovoy, PhD Volume 3, Issue 2, pp. 44- 54 (2015) Available online at

Beyond the contradictions at the level of philosophy, we also live neoliberal freedom in the present through particular experiences of responsibilization, vulnerability, and even destitution, and it is important to analyze this category at this level as well. Neoliberal freedom operates in this context less at the level of rules and rights, and more at the level of ways of being, constructing kinds of subjectivity which themselves already embody the impossible contradictions that characterize neoliberalism as doctrine and policy. A critical, and critical-pedagogical, response has to be able to expose these determinations as well and to struggle to create the possibility of other subjects—and the subjects of other possibilities. The irony is that in a world that has been decided by neoliberalism what we may most need to be freed from is its vaunted “freedom” itself. If, as I argue, neoliberal freedom is ultimately a profound form of capture, then critical pedagogy needs to work with students to imagine, against it, an emancipatory project that is itself only made real within a collective struggle against power and domination.

For F.A. Hayek, the Austrian philosopher, economist, and social theorist whose work has been a crucial source for and influence on neoliberal theory and practice, freedom in the first instance means freedom from coercion:

“We are concerned…with that condition of men in which coercion of some by others is reduced as much as is possible in society. This state we shall describe throughout as a state of liberty or freedom” (1960/2011, p. 57).

Hayek distinguishes this sense of freedom from a notion of freedom as indicating a lack of physical constraint, and also from political freedom proper (participation in the choice of government). Most importantly, Hayek distinguishes his notion of freedom from that which identifies it with the condition of being able to do or have whatever one wants. He argues that this latter notion is expressed in the redistribution of resources carried out by socialism, which he condemns as confused and dangerous. In his own minimalist definition, which defines freedom through a negative—the lack of coercion—Hayek seems in the first instance to hold to a classically liberal formulation.

This minimalism allows him to claim a certain definitional purity and to avoid the ambiguity of competing usages, even if it does not rule out constraint entirely. That is, if a free society does not avoid coercion altogether, he argues, at least it reduces it to a minimum by countenancing its limited use by the state solely in order to prevent more harmful forms of private coercion.

In fact, Hayek is ultimately impatient with an entirely negative account of freedom. Rejecting a pure laissez-faire position with regard to government, he believes that political, social, and economic conditions can be optimized for the exercise of freedom, and for the growth and development at which, he argues, freedom aims. Thus, interventions by the state, if undertaken with care, can secure the conditions in which freedom flourishes. This belief in the possibility of positive action is the first sense in which his philosophy departs from a purely negative and formal position. Second, he argues that the essential moment of freedom in contemporary society is in the economic sphere, and that the growth of commerce has been intimately connected to the deepening of freedom in modernity.

This identification of freedom broadly with “industrial freedom” (Hayek, 1944/2007, p. 70) gives the concept a historical content. His thesis here is the foundation for the properly neoliberal precept that identifies freedom with the capitalist market, and the exercise of freedom with the accumulative drive. Freedom for Hayek, like nature for Rousseau, is not automatically or immediately accessible; rather, through the careful work of law and policy the ground must be cleared of that which militates against it.

It is this apparently paradoxical turn, in which the optimal conditions for a freedom that is fundamentally suspicious of the state are achieved through a series of calculated state interventions, that Foucault (2008) explicates in terms of the idea of neoliberal governmentality.

As Foucault argues, neoliberalism does not in fact seek to do away with the state. Rather, it aims to insinuate its own rationale of competition and entrepreneurialism into the very heart of government. We can see this particularly in the neoliberal account of the law. Thus, the law for Hayek is stripped of transcendent purpose; its function is solely instrumental: “The ideal type of law, on the other hand, provides merely additional information to be taken into account in the decision of the actor” (1960/2011, p. 218). The law should not substitute the goals of government for that of the individual. Instead, the law should serve to stabilize the social environment, letting actors know what conditions they can count on and what they are responsible for. As with economic policy, law should serve to optimize conditions for the exercise of freedom, understood as freedom to compete and to accumulate. And this is not just an analogy, since according to Hayek economics provides a crucial foundation for intelligent governance more broadly:

Much of the opposition to a system of freedom under general laws arises from the inability to conceive of an effective co-ordination of human activities without deliberate organization by a commanding intelligence. One of the achievements of economic theory has been to explain how such a mutual adjustment of the spontaneous activities of individuals is brought about by the market, provided that there is a known delimitation of the sphere of control of each individual. An understanding of that mechanism of mutual adjustment of individuals forms the most important part of the knowledge that ought to enter into the making of general rules limiting individual action. (1960/2011, p. 229)

Not only does Hayek link the terrain of the law to the terrain of economics in this passage, but he also argues that the same rationale of “effective coordination” underlies, or should underlie, both spheres. This coordination is achieved through a stability secured through effective rule making. It is through this notion of law as delimitation that Hayek squares the circle of individual freedom vs. state administration, and it is under cover of this theory that actually existing neoliberalism justifies government actions on behalf of capital: these actions, it argues, only clear the ground of impediments to commerce. Implicit in Hayek, and explicit in neoliberal policy, is the idea that freedom means freedom to compete and accumulate; and in an account in which society is understood as capitalist market, the proper actor can ultimately only be the possessor of capital, or in fact capital itself.

In this way, neoliberalism offers up a brutally realist idealism. The seductiveness of Hayek, for those with material or ideological investments in the status quo, is that he sets out a highly abstract and formal system of law and governance, uncompromising in its principles and untroubled by competing goals, which seems at the same time to be fully embodied in contemporary society.

As if it were a kind of perverse Buddhism, Hayek’s lofty theory illuminates the perfection of reality itself—but in his case this means the perfection of a freedom grounded in the market, the perfection of a world ordered and organized by capital.

Hayek’s philosophy belongs to that rare species of idealism that has muscled its austere strictures into reality itself. But once firmly established as reigning ideology and rationality, it is precisely this idealist austerity that allows neoliberalism to be oblivious to its actual effects, and to the suffering that it everywhere creates. Of course, this obliviousness is already demanded as a central principle by this philosophical system, which refuses any evaluation in terms of the consequences it produces.

Thus, for Hayek, the actual effects of the freedom he recommends on individuals are quite independent of its essential virtue. Indeed, “to be free may mean freedom to starve, to make costly mistakes, or to run mortal risks” (1960/2011, p. 69). Likewise, the extreme inequality that this market freedom produces is not merely unavoidable, he argues, but desirable, since inequality allows the privileged to pioneer new ways of life and to marshal resources leading to civilizational advance.

Hayek’s hostility to the welfare state is not so much based on the immediate effect of its systems of provision, but rather on the threat they pose to the proper ordering of conditions for freedom. As he would have it, the careful engineering required to lay the groundwork for freedom as competition is destroyed by obtrusive protections for workers and the poor.

 Thus, the monetarism that he recommends in terms of economic policy, which seeks above all to check the growth of inflation, aims not only to stabilize conditions for investors and savers but also to prevent the growth of state services and benefits (which he believes accelerate as a response to inflation) as well as the Keynesian consensus that supports them (Hayek, 2006/2011, p. 465).

This regulatory growth contaminates the purity of the freedom Hayek contemplates, which is represented in the contention of competing capitals. But what is optimized of course in this competition is not really the freedom of the individual, but rather power’s own freedom, and the growth of power for itself, which is ultimately Hayek’s main concern—even if this accumulation is represented as the advance guard of a more general progress.

Under this banner, Hayek’s system transmutes the drive to domination into virtue. In Hayek, the revanchist impulse that Duménil and Lévy (2005) describe as mobilizing neoliberalism’s assault on working people globally and its draining of resources from periphery to center is made elegant; the very violence of capitalism glitters as if it were the geometric proof of the philosopher’s thesis. Is it any wonder that the intellectual sheen — and cover — offered by this philosophy has been so irresistible for those who view the world from positions of command?

Experiences of Neoliberal Freedom: Flexibility and Responsibilization

Hayek’s understanding of freedom does not result in a simple opposition between the individual and society. In fact, he emphasizes that as society develops, we are more and more dependent, as individuals, on knowledge that is embodied in shared customs and institutions, which are the result of adaptations over generations:

It might be said that civilization begins when the individual in the pursuit of his ends can make use of more knowledge than he has himself acquired and when he can transcend the boundaries of his ignorance by profiting from knowledge he does not himself possess. (2006/2011, p. 73)

According to Hayek, there is a broad stock of collective knowledge, embodied not only in science but even in social habits, that crucially orients the actions of individuals. In this regard, his emphases anticipate in unexpected fashion the work of contemporary theorists such as Hardt and Negri (2004, 2009), who have described the collective intelligence and creativity that increasingly organize social production. The essential difference, of course, is that for Hayek collectivity and collaboration are simply effects of and platforms for the principle of competition, since they arise out of a process of adaptation in which unsuccessful forms of organization are discarded, and since they serve as a starting point for competitive innovations. In this way, rather than the isolated individual being counterposed to the networked collectivity, this entire ensemble is unified by the principle of competition that works through it. One is tempted to see in neoliberalism, as prefigured by Hayek, a kind of frightening Hegelian resolution to the dialectic between the individual and the organic community, in which the conduct of both poles of this opposition comes to express a fundamental entrepreneurial rationale.

Actually existing neoliberalism apparently coheres with this aspect of Hayek’s vision. On the one hand, “teamwork” has become a key trope and modality of work and leisure, and a range of dimensions of human sociability and communicativity have been incorporated within the process of capital accumulation (especially in the service industries). Other kinds of freedom as well—especially freedom as flexibility—have increasingly come to characterize the labor process. Thus, Boltanski and Chiapello (2005) document the transition in post-Fordist France from a paradigm of business management based on hierarchy and individualized meritocracy (in the 1960s) to one based on autonomy, teamwork, and “leadership” (beginning in the 1990s). In this new management paradigm, the authority of the boss is replaced by a working environment apparently characterized by trust, creativity, and self-control. The underlying objective of management becomes the mobilization of personal skills and capacities rather than the direction of activity from the top down. Boltanski and Chiapello recount how firms deliberately co-opted radical demands of the 1960s for greater creativity and autonomy, divorcing a movement toward workplace freedom and conviviality from the critique of capitalist exploitation with which it had been connected in the protests of the time. Clearly, the shift that they describe is widespread beyond France itself, and has only accelerated since their study was undertaken. Furthermore, flexibilization has increasingly dispensed with its veneer of worker-friendliness, as on-demand production and service schedules throw lives into chaos and poverty. In this context, autonomy as precarity proves the unity of freedom and competition that Hayek described, while also preserving the dark outline of his austere definition of freedom itself: true freedom as freedom to starve. In this historical progression, freedom becomes, paradoxically, the mode in which we most perfectly live our own domination, as Wendy Brown (2003) points out.

In education as well, neoliberalism has to some extent involved a devolution of responsibility for control and discipline from the system to the individual, while maintaining the authorities’ power of ultimate decision. The moral framework of the contemporary educational accountability apparatus consists in the idea that teachers and students are ultimately solely responsible for learning “outcomes.” At the less privileged end of the schooling spectrum this means inviting poor students and students of color to blame themselves (for the sin of attending under-resourced and punitive schools). At the more privileged end of the spectrum this means, for students, being responsible for investing in oneself as the embodiment of a continually accumulating cultural, symbolic, and academic capital. Not only does this invitation to an entrepreneurial orientation reorganize the experience of grade school; in addition, Simons and Masschelein (2008) show how a process of lifelong learning as optimization of human capital is associated with a paradigm shift in education more broadly—toward what they call the “learning apparatus.” In this context, neoliberalism sets us free to manage our own educational portfolio. The degree of our initiative in this regard determines not only our employability, but also our personal fulfillment and sense of virtue. A “rich” life for the successful learner as portfolio builder depends on a fidelity to the neoliberal imperative to make the most of every opportunity (O’Flynn & Peterson, 2007). Importantly, “success” here is tied to the mobilization of an effectively experienced autonomy, a process of responsibilization with which students identify. Likewise, failure within the logic of the neoliberal learning apparatus is supposed to be understood in terms of this autonomy and responsibility—as a bad choice that itself proves the freedom of the neoliberal subject.

Neoliberal freedom as governmentality, for Foucault (2008), is a rationality that organizes the relationships of subjects to themselves—as entrepreneurs of their own human capital—at the same time that it reconstructs the meaning of government at the level of the state itself. But in addition, as Boltanski and Chiapello’s (2005) study indicates, the structure of neoliberal freedom works at the system level as a powerful strategy for evading the immanent contradictions of capitalism. On the terrain of production, post-Fordism’s shift to a framework of autonomy, self-control, and collaboration works to render the sclerotic apparatus of accumulation newly supple. On the terrain of policy and ideology, the shift in neoliberalism to a grammar of choice, responsibility, and self-actualization works as an update to capitalism’s clunky operating system—seeming to recognize and even “empower” individuals within a system which was always before thought to reduce and disempower them (Harvey, 2005). But this paradoxical reconciliation of opposites—freedom as internalization of control, empowerment as isolation in competition—in fact puts the lie to late capitalism’s impressive sheen. The shift to teamwork, communication, and networks that is the signature of this era takes shape after all within a system characterized ultimately by a logic of predation, and in this context our impulses to affiliate and collaborate in material and intellectual labor become an important instrument of exploitation, including in “creative” and educational occupations. Thus, if the image of freedom in neoliberalism seems to reconcile irreconcilable opposites, the actual content of neoliberal freedom is ultimately invasion, speed-up, and surveillance.

For this reason it is important to understand neoliberal freedom in terms of ideology, and not simply in terms of a grammar of power. However, it is not so much that we are tricked into believing that we are free in neoliberalism, but rather that the seductive image of this freedom works as a symbolic compensation for our actual precariousness. For instance, the proliferating systems of choice in education (i.e. networks of charters, magnets, and demonstration schools) seek to dazzle us at the same time that a broader disinvestment in public schooling proceeds apace. This is not exactly false consciousness, but it suggests that much of what we learn to desire and consume in neoliberalism’s new landscapes of choice in fact ends up making us, collectively, fractured and vulnerable rather than liberated.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Real Subsumption and Subjective Destitution

Critical theorists have described the way that alienation in late capitalism is obscured and submerged by the false needs of a one-dimensional consumerist society (Marcuse, 1991). But neoliberalism goes one step further in that there is a shift in it from this submerged alienation to a condition of colonization and enclosure of social potentiality. In this process, the space of alienation itself—the ultimate estrangement of self from society—is itself enclosed, so that power comes to invest and control both poles of the contradiction. In this context, our most authentic struggles for well-being and self-expression (e.g. mental and physical self-care, romantic relationships, or spiritual practices) are organized in an entrepreneurial mode and seem to be just one more expression of the neoliberal ethos. Even the most intimate modalities of freedom now seem to belong to power.

A crucial effect of this shift is that senses of freedom that cannot be articulated in neoliberal terms appear delusional and incoherent. Within neoliberalism’s logic of “capitalist realism” (Fisher, 2009), individual or collective emancipatory projects that would challenge neoliberalism’s basic conditions are refused; such projects become fantastic, obsolete, or unintelligible. In particular, revolutionary struggles are constructed as vestiges of an archaic period and as expressing an embarrassing ideological backwardness. Neoliberalism seeks to transform precisely the realism of revolutionary movements—a realism that focuses on decisive contradictions, and which recognizes that meaningful change must occur at the level of the social whole—into a naïve idealism, which supposedly does not recognize the proper limits of the imagination. This transformation in the meaning of freedom in the present can be helpfully understood in relation to the process in late capitalism of real subsumption. As Marx (1867/1976) explains, in real as opposed to formal subsumption, capitalism not only comes to monopolize the means of production, but actually to absorb and transform the relations of production—the conditions and modes of work. Society is in this way fundamentally molded by capital. This idea has been pressed further by Negri (2003), who argues that in real subsumption (and contemporary capitalism) all use-value becomes exchange-value, capital occupies society as a whole, and work becomes the very “time of life.” In this process, as capital invests and absorbs being and imagination, subjectivity itself becomes a crucial site of political antagonism and struggle. Liberation, from this perspective, is more than a struggle against processes of exploitation in production, or against dominant forms of ideological common sense; liberation means a struggle for different ways of being, different temporalities, and different subjectivities. While Negri’s vision of exodus from the time of capital is rather hard to imagine in the context of the actual enclosures of neoliberalism, his analysis is generative. In particular, the idea of real subsumption allows us to bring together a Marxist analysis of capital with a Foucauldian consideration of governmentality, as Read (2009) points out. At this point of intersection, the meaning of freedom has to be investigated in terms of the politics of the subject. In other words, the questions “Are we free?” and “What kind of freedom do we have?” have to be explored together with the questions “Who are we?” or “What have we become?”

The 1978 remake of the science fiction horror film Invasion of the Body Snatchers dramatizes this neoliberal condition. In the film, an extraterrestrial species takes over the identities of the inhabitants of San Francisco, first producing (in immense pods) replicas of people’s bodies, and then absorbing their minds while they sleep. In contrast to the original 1956 version of the film, which can be analyzed in terms of cold-war paranoias regarding ideological conformity (of either the left or the right), the nature of the invasion in the 1978 remake is more subtle and disturbing: the horror is not that the body-snatching invaders make everyone the same in relation to one another, but rather that as the invasion occurs everyone remains the same. In other words, what is most frightening in the remake is that we are invaded and absorbed without any noticeable ripple in the surface of our lives and society: we are made alien within our very self-identification. Indeed, as the protagonists in the film worry about what is happening to their partners and neighbors, it turns out that the hip psychotherapist (played by Leonard Nimoy) who helps them to work through these anxieties has in fact already been taken over by the invaders. This is the creeping horror of neoliberalism and real subsumption: that in authentically becoming ourselves we end up merely expressing the system’s inner reason. Ultimately the lesson of the film is not that we are threatened by frightening invaders; rather, it is that we ourselves, in ourselves, are already alien.

To put these reflections in the context of the consideration of freedom, we might say that in neoliberalism it is not so much that our freedom is false (as in older forms of alienation), but rather that it is we who are false. Real subsumption encloses and collapses the contradiction between the alienated and the authentic, and colonizes the truth of the subject. It is not only the emphasis on freedom as competition in markets that is important in Hayek and fellow-travelers, then, but also the subject of freedom that their accounts presume. In short, capitalism needs to be thought about here in terms of ontological invasion. In the context of this process of invasion, a critical sense of emancipation will have to upset the terms within which we are allowed to coherently construct ourselves. In education, and for critical pedagogy in particular, this points to the necessity not just of familiar kinds of critique, but also of praxis at the level of ways of being.

Against Neoliberal Liberty: Starting Points for Critical Pedagogy

The first task for a pedagogy against neoliberalism—and against neoliberal freedom—is to challenge the prevailing definition of freedom itself. It is important to return to Hayek to interrogate the narrowness of the simple definition he offers for freedom: the absence of coercion directed against individuals. Teachers ought to consider with students other meanings for freedom, especially senses that Hayek polemicizes against: freedom as collective struggle for justice, freedom as political liberty and political voice, and freedom as freedom from oppression and exploitation. These senses persist in the shadows of the prevailing abstract and individualistic definition; they can be recovered and explored in critical pedagogical work across the curriculum.

Of course, it is also important to recognize the limits of the account given by Hayek even of his own minimalist definition, which is modeled for him on the idea of market freedom. Against Hayek, freedom from coercion for the individual might instead be taken to refer to liberty not just in relation to the state, but also from the increasingly immoderate demands of capital; it might include liberty to imagine and create outside of the narrow ideological limits of the given. And we have not even broached the innumerable contradictions between the minimalist liberal maxim and the actual neoliberal reality: in particular that a system supposedly founded on a suspicion of the state in favor of the citizen has overseen an unprecedented growth in the state’s carceral and security apparatuses (Wacquant, 2009), a remarkable expansion of surveillance, and a proliferation of special bureaucracies—including the bureaucracy of neoliberal educational accountability (Hursh, 2007). These contradictions should be explored by critical educators.

However, the reconfiguration of work, education, and social relationships in the neoliberal era also enrolls us into subjectivities and ways of being that work below and beyond ideological common senses (De Lissovoy, 2015). The entrepreneurial self, which is also a self prepared for particular regimes of communication, flexibility, and surveillance on the job or in the classroom, secures the rule of neoliberalism in its very postures, habits and dispositions. A critical pedagogy aiming to work at this level has to engage students in an investigation that is embodied, emotional, and ethical as much as it is ideological. Neoliberal accountability in education—which is essentially an unceasing audit and indictment, offered up in the form of standardized tests, behavior management plans, and systems of “value-added” measurement of teachers—lays the foundation for anxious subjectivities terminally attuned to their personal statistical troughs: to skills needing improvement, to lagging potentials, and to gaps in “achievement.” To expose and challenge this regime is to consider our own deeply embodied performances and performativities (Ball & Olmedo, 2013). Here a teacher’s actions and affects, his or her invitations to a different set of educational relationships, are crucial; these should propose kinds of communication and solidarity that can unravel the tightly wound knot of neoliberal subjectivity. For example, admitting and acknowledging in the classroom dialogue a range of emotional responses—including anxiety, anger, resistance, and even boredom—as starting points for critical inquiry is a first step to understanding the contradictions that young people in school must live as students in the neoliberal era. Once acknowledged, these feelings can be explored and analyzed in relation to the social and political structures of which they are the effect (or to which they respond).

Freire (1996) described the processes of “adhesion” to the oppressor and “fear of freedom” which secure oppressive social systems and banking models of education at the level of subjectivity. We ought to revisit Freire’s psychoanalytic inquiry in the context of the present day. What is the glue that holds together the neoliberal subject? What secures the submission of that subject, at the level not just of belief but also of habit and practice, to the foreshortened horizons of austerity and competition? A crucial clue here is in the way that power in neoliberalism works through the permission of specific kinds of autonomy, and not simply through marginalization. Thus, in the present, students and teachers may not so much be afraid of freedom (Freire’s original diagnosis), as anxious in their autonomy. Just as firms in post- Fordism tend to externalize the costs of control to workers themselves (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2005), neoliberal schooling makes students responsible for their own integration or lack of integration into systems of opportunity and structures of identification. Penalties and rewards are represented as following automatically on personal choices. In this context, a key task for critical pedagogy may be to pry students away from this anxious autonomy and to introduce the possibility of other social temporalities (Negri, 2003) and other notions and practices of freedom. In this context, the hope that Freire emphasized as central to critical pedagogy becomes a hope not just that the world might be different, but that we ourselves might be built from different imaginations and desires, and that we might be released from a fragmentation that isolates us in ourselves.

In short, it may be that a basic task for critical pedagogy in the present is to rescue students from the isolation of their vaunted “freedom.” Students today are “free” to navigate hostile educational environments; “free” to submit to constant monitoring of their bodies and minds; “free” to blame themselves for the injuries visited upon them by authorities; “free” to obsessively accumulate tokens of intellectual compliance; “free” to be discriminated against on the basis of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation; “free” to endure a stultifying pedagogical regimen of study skills; and so on. In the perverse logic of the school, the demoralization experienced by students is proof of their freedom, since this demoralization is supposed to follow from their own poor choices. In this context, critical pedagogy should in fact be oriented against “freedom,” and in favor of solidarity. Critical pedagogy should propose this question: What senses of self, intellectual commitments, and political projects might we be able to find once we are emancipated from the confines of this neoliberal liberty?


Against the violent abstraction of neoliberalism, which seeks to hold the individual apart from society and history and understands freedom as inhering in this imaginary gap, we need to counterpose a different definition and vision. Within a critical perspective, freedom, and emancipation are constituted by their opposition to power; they are made real in the process of struggle against oppression. Freedom cannot be protected as a property of the individual, since it exists only in the space of contradiction that opposes collective antagonists: the people and the rulers. Much less can freedom be identified with “industrial freedom” or the liberty to move and compete in markets. This latter definition is an apotheosis of capitalism, making it the condition and goal of human being and creativity. Neoliberalism’s awful appeal is in its exaltation of the actual, its spiritual vindication of the system’s pervasive violence. If Hayek’s grim philosophy planted the seeds for this vindication, in the present it is everywhere the order of the day. Breaking with this religion means not just repudiating its philosophical precepts and principles of policy, but also refusing the ways of being that sustain these principles. A re-imagination of freedom is in this way part of the broader project of building different subjects and subjectivities. It means looking beyond the narrow neoliberal autonomies that are permitted to us, and the isolation and precariousness that accompany them, and instead to a sense of freedom as the movement itself of struggle for a different time of life.

__________ Noah De Lissovoy is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies in Education at the University of Texas at Austin. His research centers on emancipatory approaches to education and cultural studies, with a special focus on the intersecting effects of race, class and capital. He is the author of Education and Emancipation in the Neoliberal Era (Palgrave), Power, Crisis, and Education for Liberation (Palgrave), and co-author of Toward a New Common School Movement (Paradigm). His work has appeared in many journals, including Race, Ethnicity, and Education, Critical Sociology, Harvard Educational Review, Curriculum Inquiry, and Journal of Education Policy.

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[Mar 20, 2019] What Republicans and Billionaires Really Mean When They Talk About 'Freedom' by Thom Hartman

Mar 20, 2019 |

Yves here. This post focuses on an important slice of history in what "freedom" has meant in political discourse in the US. But I wish it had at least mentioned how a well-funded, then extreme right wing effort launched an open-ended campaign to render US values more friendly to business. They explicitly sought to undo New Deal programs and weaken or end other social safety nets. Nixon Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell codified the strategy for this initiative in the so-called Powell Memo of 1971.

One of the most effective spokesmen for this libertarian program was Milton Friedman, whose bestseller Free to Choose became the foundation for a ten-part TV series.

By Thom Hartman, a talk-show host and author of more than 25 books in print . He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute . Produced by the Independent Media Institute

America is having a heated debate about the meaning of the word socialism . We'd be better served if, instead, we were debating the meaning of freedom .

The Oregonian reported last week that fully 156,000 families are on the edge of homelessness in our small-population state. Every one of those households is now paying more than 50 percent of its monthly income on rent, and none of them has any savings; one medical bill, major car repair or job loss, and they're on the streets.

While socialism may or may not solve their problem, the more pressing issue we have is an entire political party and a huge sector of the billionaire class who see homelessness not as a problem, but as a symptom of a "free" society.

The words freedom and liberty are iconic in American culture -- probably more so than with any other nation because they're so intrinsic to the literature, declarations and slogans of our nation's founding.

The irony -- of the nation founded on the world's greatest known genocide (the systematic state murder of tens of millions of Native Americans) and over three centuries of legalized slavery and a century and a half of oppression and exploitation of the descendants of those slaves -- is extraordinary. It presses us all to bring true freedom and liberty to all Americans.

But what do those words mean?

If you ask the Koch brothers and their buddies -- who slap those words on pretty much everything they do -- you'd get a definition that largely has to do with being "free" from taxation and regulation. And, truth be told, if you're morbidly rich, that makes a certain amount of sense, particularly if your main goal is to get richer and richer, regardless of your behavior's impact on working-class people, the environment, or the ability of government to function.

On the other hand, the definition of freedom and liberty that's been embraced by so-called "democratic socialist" countries -- from Canada to almost all of Europe to Japan and Australia -- you'd hear a definition that's closer to that articulated by Franklin D. Roosevelt when he proposed, in January 1944, a " second Bill of Rights " to be added to our Constitution.

FDR's proposed amendments included the right to a job, and the right to be paid enough to live comfortably; the right to "adequate food and clothing and recreation"; the right to start a business and run it without worrying about "unfair competition and domination by monopolies"; the right "of every family to a decent home"; the right to "adequate medical care to achieve and enjoy good health"; the right to government-based "protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment"; and the right "to a good education."

Roosevelt pointed out that, "All of these rights spell security." He added, "America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world."

The other nations mentioned earlier took President Roosevelt's advice to heart. Progressive "social democracy" has kept Europe, Canada, and the developed nations of the East and South Pacific free of war for almost a century -- a mind-boggling feat when considering the history of the developed world since the 1500s.

Just prior to FDR winning the White House in the election of 1932, the nation had been treated to 12 years of a bizarre Republican administration that was the model for today's GOP. In 1920, Warren Harding won the presidency on a campaign of "more industry in government, less government in industry" -- privatize and deregulate -- and a promise to drop the top tax rate of 91 percent down to 25 percent.

He kept both promises, putting the nation into a sugar-high spin called the Roaring '20s, where the rich got fabulously rich and working-class people were being beaten and murdered by industrialists when they tried to unionize. Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover (the three Republican presidents from 1920 to 1932) all cheered on the assaults, using phrases like "the right to work" to describe a union-free nation.

In the end, the result of the " horses and sparrows " economics advocated by Harding ("feed more oats to the horses and there'll be more oats in the horse poop to fatten the sparrows" -- that generation's version of trickle-down economics) was the Republican Great Depression (yes, they called it that until after World War II).

Even though Roosevelt was fabulously popular -- the only president to be elected four times -- the right-wingers of his day were loud and outspoken in their protests of what they called "socialist" programs like Social Security, the right to unionize, and government-guaranteed job programs including the WPA, REA, CCC, and others.

The Klan and American Nazis were assembling by the hundreds of thousands nationwide -- nearly 30,000 in Madison Square Garden alone -- encouraged by wealthy and powerful "economic royalists" preaching "freedom" and " liberty ." Like the Kochs' Freedomworks , that generation's huge and well-funded (principally by the DuPonts' chemical fortune) organization was the Liberty League .

Roosevelt's generation had seen the results of this kind of hard-right "freedom" rhetoric in Italy, Spain, Japan and Germany, the very nations with which we were then at war.

Speaking of "the grave dangers of 'rightist reaction' in this Nation," Roosevelt told America in that same speech that: "[I]f history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called 'normalcy' of the 1920s -- then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home."

Although right-wingers are still working hard to disassemble FDR's New Deal -- the GOP budget for 2019 contains massive cuts to Social Security, as well as to Medicare and Medicaid -- we got halfway toward his notion of freedom and liberty here in the United States:

You're not free if you're old and deep in poverty, so we have Social Security (although the GOP wants to gut it). You're not free if you're hungry, so we have food stamps/SNAP (although the GOP wants to gut them). You're not free if you're homeless, so we have housing assistance and homeless shelters (although the GOP fights every effort to help homeless people). You're not free if you're sick and can't get medical care, so we have Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare (although the GOP wants to gut them all). You're not free if you're working more than 40 hours a week and still can't meet basic expenses, so we have minimum wage laws and the right to unionize (although the GOP wants to gut both). You're not free if you can't read, so we have free public schools (although the GOP is actively working to gut them). You're not free if you can't vote, so we've passed numerous laws to guarantee the right to vote (although the GOP is doing everything it can to keep tens of millions of Americans from voting).

The billionaire class and their wholly owned Republican politicians keep trying to tell us that "freedom" means the government doesn't provide any of the things listed above.

Instead, they tell us (as Ron Paul famously did in a GOP primary debate years ago) that, if we're broke and sick, we're "free" to die like a feral dog in the gutter.

Freedom is homelessness, in the minds of the billionaires who own the GOP.

Poverty, lack of education, no access to health care, poor-paying jobs, and barriers to voting are all proof of a free society, they tell us, which is why America's lowest life expectancy, highest maternal and childhood death rates, lowest levels of education, and lowest pay are almost all in GOP-controlled states .

America -- particularly the Democratic Party -- is engaged in a debate right now about the meaning of socialism . It would be a big help for all of us if we were, instead, to have an honest debate about the meaning of the words freedom and liberty .

cuibono , , March 20, 2019 at 2:53 am

Know Your Rights:

WheresOurTeddy , , March 20, 2019 at 12:28 pm

I have been informed by Fox that knowing your rights is un-American

everydayjoe , , March 20, 2019 at 4:26 am

Let us not forget the other propaganda arm of Republican party and big money- Fox news. They spew the freedom nonsense while not adhering to any definition of the word.

I worked in the midwest as an Engineer in the 90s to early 2000s and saw plants being gutted/shifted overseas, Union influence curtailed and mid level and bottom pay stay flat for decades; all in the name of free market.

Sadly the same families that are the worst affected vote Republican! But we know all this and have known it for a while. What will change?

lyman alpha blob , , March 20, 2019 at 8:00 am

They want freedom -- for the wolves to eat the sheep.

PKMKII , , March 20, 2019 at 1:08 pm

And then act like it's fair because they don't have laws against the sheep eating the wolves.

Norb , , March 20, 2019 at 8:39 am

The intro to this post is spot on. The Powell memo outlined a strategy for a corporate coup d'eta. Is was completely successful. Now that the business class rules America, their only vision is to continue the quest and cannibalize the country and enslave its people by any means possible. What tools do they use to achieve these ends? -- debt, fear, violence and pandering to human vanity as a motivator. Again, very successful.

Instead of honest public debate- which is impossible when undertaken with liars and thieves, a good old manifesto or pamphlet like Common Sense is in order. Something calling out concrete action that can be taken by commoners to regain their social respect and power. That should scare the living daylights out of the complacent and smug elite.

Its that, or a lot of public infrastructure is gong to be broken up by the mob- which doesn't work out in the long run. The nations that learn to work with and inspire their populations will prosper- the rest will have a hard time of it. Look no further than America's fall.

Carla , , March 20, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Thank you, Norb. You've inspired me to start by reading Common Sense.

Jamie S , , March 20, 2019 at 9:13 am

This piece raises some important points, but aims too narrowly at one political party, when the D-party has also been complicit in sharing the framing of "freedom" as less government/regulation/taxation. After all, it was the Clinton administration that did welfare "reform", deregulation of finance, and declared the end of the era of "big government", and both Clinton and Obama showed willingness to cut Social Security and Medicare in a "grand bargain".

WJ , , March 20, 2019 at 12:10 pm


If in place of "the GOP," the author had written, "The national Democratic and Republican parties over the past fifty years," his claim would be much more accurate. To believe what he says about "the GOP," you have to pretend that Clinton, and Obama, and Pelosi, and Schumer, and Feinstein simply don't exist and never did. The author's implicit valorization of Obamacare is even more disheartening.

But perhaps this is the *point* of the piece after all? If I were a consultant to the DNC (and I make less than $100,000/yr so I am clearly not), I would advocate that they commission, underscore, and reward pieces exactly like this one. For the smartest ones surely grasp that the rightist oligarchic policy takeover has in fact happened, and that it has left in its wake millions of disaffected, indebted, uneducated, uninsured Americans.

(Suggesting that it hadn't was the worst idiocy of Clinton's 2016 campaign. It would have been much better had she admitted it and blamed it on the Republican Senate while holding dear old Obama up as a hamstrung martyr for the cause. I mean, this is what everybody at DailyKos already believes, and the masses -- being poor and uneducated and desperate -- can be brought around to believe anything, or anyway, enough of them can be.)

I would advocate that the DNC double down on its rightful claims to Roosevelt's inheritance, embrace phrases like "social democracy" and "freedom from economic insecurity," and shift leftward in all its official rhetoric. Admit the evisceration of the Roosevelt tradition, but blame it all on the GOP. Maybe *maybe* even acknowledge that past Democratic leaders were a little naive and idealistic in their pursuit of bipartisanship, and did not understand the truly horrible intentions of the GOP. But today's Democrats are committed to wresting back the rights of the people from the evil clutches of the Koch Republicans. This sort of thing.

Would my advice be followed? Or would the *really* smart ones in the room demure? If so, why do you think they would?

In short, I read this piece as one stage in an ongoing dialectic in the Democratic Party in the run-up to the 2020 election wherein party leaders try to determine how leftward its "official" rhetoric is able to sway before becoming *so* unbelievable (in light of historical facts) that it cannot serve as effective propaganda -- even among Americans!

NotTimothyGeithner , , March 20, 2019 at 1:34 pm

Team Blue elites are the children of Bill Clinton and the Third Way, so the echo chamber was probably terrible. Was Bill Clinton a bad President? He was the greatest Republican President! The perception of this answer is a key. Who rose and joined Team Blue through this run? Many Democrats don't recognize this, or they don't want to rock the boat. This is the structural problem with Team Blue. The "generic Democrat" is AOC, Omar, Sanders, Warren, and a handful of others.

Can the Team Blue elites embrace a Roosevelt identity? The answer is no. Their ideology is so wildly divergent they can't adjust without a whole sale conversion.

More succinctly, the Third Way isn't about helping Democrats win by accepting not every battle can be won. Its about advancing right wing politics and pretending this isn't what its about. If they are too clear about good policy, they will be accused of betrayal.

jefemt , , March 20, 2019 at 9:18 am

Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose Kris Kristofferson

shinola , , March 20, 2019 at 1:06 pm

"nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free"

Trick Shroade , , March 20, 2019 at 9:46 am

The modern GOP has a very brutalist interpretation of Christianity, one where the money changers bring much needed liquidity to the market.

where , , March 20, 2019 at 12:30 pm

it's been 2 generations, but we assure you, the wealth will eventually trickle down

Dwight , , March 20, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Be patient, the horse has to digest your oat.

The Rev Kev , , March 20, 2019 at 10:13 am

This article makes me wonder if the GOP is still a political party anymore. I know, I know, they have the party structure, the candidates, the budget and all the rest of it but when you look at their policies and what they are trying to do, the question does arise. Are they doing it because this is what they believe is their identity as a party or is it that they are simply a vehicle with the billionaires doing the real driving and recruiting? An obvious point is that among billionaires, they see no need to form their own political party which should be telling clue. Certainly the Democrats are no better.

Maybe the question that American should ask themselves is just what does it mean to be an American in the year 2020? People like Norman Rockwell and his Four Freedoms could have said a lot of what it meant some 60 years ago and his work has been updated to reflect the modern era ( ) but the long and the short of it is that things are no longer working for most people anymore -- and not just in America. But a powerful spring can only be pushed back and held in place for so long before there is a rebound effect and I believe that I am seeing signs of this the past few years.

GF , , March 20, 2019 at 11:06 am

And don't forget FRD's Second Bill of Rights:

" a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all -- regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security."

Frank Little , , March 20, 2019 at 10:20 am

America is having a heated debate about the meaning of the word socialism. We'd be better served if, instead, we were debating the meaning of freedom.

I agree, and we should also be having a debate about capitalism as it actually exists. In the US capitalism is always talked about in rosy non-specific terms (e.g. a preference for markets or support for entrepreneurship) while anybody who says they don't necessarily support capitalism has to answer for Stalin's gulag's or the Khmer Rouge. All the inequalities and injustices that have helped people like Howard Schultz or Jeff Bezos become billionaire capitalists somehow aren't part of capitalism, just different problems to be solved somehow but definitely not by questioning capitalism.

Last night I watched the HBO documentary on Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos and I couldn't help but laugh at all these powerful politicians, investors, and legal giants going along with someone who never once demonstrated or even explained how her groundbreaking innovation actually worked. $900 million was poured into that company before people realized something that a Stanford professor interviewed in the documentary saw when she first met Holmes. Fracking companies have been able to consistently raise funding despite consistently losing money and destroying the environment in the process. Bank balance sheets were protected while working people lost everything in the name of preserving American capitalism. I think it's good to debate socialism and capitalism, but there's not really any point if we aren't going to be talking about Actually Existing Capitalism rather than the hypothetical version that's trotted out anytime someone suggests an alternative.

Trick Shroade , , March 20, 2019 at 10:53 am

There was a great comment here on NC a little while ago, something to the effect of "capitalism has the logic of a cancer cell. It's a pile of money whose only goal is to become a bigger pile of money." Of course good things can happen as a side effect of it becoming a bigger pile of money: innovation, efficiencies, improved standard of living, etc. but we need government (not industry) regulation to keep the bad side effects of capitalism in check (like the cancer eventually killing its host).

Carey , , March 20, 2019 at 12:21 pm

"efficiency" is very often not good for the Commons, in the long term.

Frank Little , , March 20, 2019 at 12:31 pm

Shoot, must have missed that comment but it's a good metaphor. Reminds me of Capital vol. 1, which Marx starts with a long and dense treatment of the nature of commodities and commodification in order to capture this process whereby capitalists produce things people really do want or need in order to get at what they really want: return on their investment.

Jack Gavin , , March 20, 2019 at 12:36 pm

I also agree but I think we need to have a the same heated debate over what capitalism means. Over the years I have been subjected to (exposed) to more flavors of socialism than I can count. Yet, other than an introductory economics class way back when, no debatable words about what 'capitalism' is seems to get attention. Maybe it's time to do that and hope that some agreeable definition of 'freedom' falls out.

jrs , , March 20, 2019 at 12:42 pm

of course maybe socialism is the only thing that ever really could solve homelessness, given that it seems to be at this point a worldwide problem, although better some places than others (like the U.S. and UK).

Stratos , , March 20, 2019 at 11:11 am

This article lets the Dems off the hook. They have actively supported the Billionaire Agenda for decades now; sometimes actively (like when they helped gut welfare) and sometimes by enabling Repubs objectives (like voter suppression).

At this point in time, the Dem leadership is working to deep six Medicare for All.

With 'friends' like the Dems, who needs the Repubs?

WheresOurTeddy , , March 20, 2019 at 12:30 pm

our last democratic president was Carter

thump , , March 20, 2019 at 12:38 pm

1) In the history, a mention of the attempted coup against FDR would be good. See The Plot to Seize the White House by Jules Archer. ( Amazon link )

2) For the contemporary intellectual history, I really appreciated Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains . ( Amazon link ) Look her up on youtube or Democracy Now . Her book got a bit of press and she interviews well.

Bob of Newton , , March 20, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Please refer to these folks as 'rightwingers'. There are Democratic as well as Republicans who believe in this type of 'freedom'.

Jerry B , , March 20, 2019 at 2:38 pm

This post seems heavily slanted against the GOP and does not take into account how pro-business the Democrats have become. I tenuously agree with Yves intro that much of the current pro business value system campaign in the US was started with the political far right and the Lewis Powell Memo. And that campaign kicked into high gear during the Reagan Presidency.

But as that "pro business campaign" gained steam, the Democratic Party, IMO, realized that they could partake in the "riches" as well and sold their political soul for a piece of the action. Hartman's quote about the billionaire class should include their "wholly owned Republicans and Democrat politicians".

As Lambert mentions (paraphrasing), "The left puts the working class first. Both liberals and conservatives put markets first, liberals with many more layers of indirection (e.g., complex eligibility requirements, credentialing) because that creates niches from which their professional base benefits".

As an aside, while the pro-business/capitalism on steroids people have sought more "freedom", they have made the US and the world less free for the rest of us.

Also the over focusing on freedom is not uniquely GOP. As Hartman mentions, "the words freedom and liberty are iconic in American culture -- probably more so than with any other nation because they're so intrinsic to the literature, declarations and slogans of our nation's founding." US culture has taken the concept of freedom to an extreme version of individualism.

That is not surprising given our history.

The DRD4 gene is a dopamine receptor gene. One stretch of the gene is repeated a variable number of times, and the version with seven repeats (the "7R" form) produces a receptor protein that is relatively unresponsive to dopamine. Being unresponsive to dopamine means that people who have this gene have a host of related traits -- sensation and novelty seeking, risk taking, impulsivity, and, probably most consistently, ADHD. -- -- Seems like the type of people that would value extreme (i.e. non-collective) forms of freedom

The United States is the individualism poster child for at least two reasons. First there's immigration. Currently, 12 percent of Americans are immigrants, another 12 percent are children of immigrants, and everyone else except for the 0.9 percent pure Native Americans descend from people who emigrated within the last five hundred years.

And who were the immigrants?' Those in the settled world who were cranks, malcontents, restless, heretical, black sheep, hyperactive, hypomanic, misanthropic, itchy, unconventional, yearning to be free, yearning to be rich, yearning to be out of their, damn boring repressive little hamlet, yearning. -- -- Again seems like the type of people that would value freedom in all aspects of life and not be interested in collectivism

Couple that with the second reason -- for the majority of its colonial and independent history, America has had a moving frontier luring those whose extreme prickly optimism made merely booking passage to the New World insufficiently, novel -- and you've got America the individualistic.

The 7R variant mentioned above occurs in about 23 percent of Europeans and European Americans. And in East Asians? 1 percent. When East Asians domesticated rice and invented collectivist society, there was massive selection against the 7R variant. Regardless of the cause, East Asian cultural collectivism coevolved with selection against the 7R variant.

So which came first, 7R frequency or cultural style? The 4R and 7R variants, along with the 2R, occur worldwide, implying they already existed when humans radiated out of Africa 60,000 to 130,000 years ago. A high incidence of 7R, associated with impulsivity and novelty seeking, is the legacy of humans who made the greatest migrations in human history.

So it seems that many of the people who immigrated to the US were impulsive, novelty seeking, risk takers. As a counterpoint, many people that migrated to the US did not do so by choice but were forced from their homes and their countries by wars.

The point of this long comment is that for some people the concept of freedom can be taken to extreme -- a lack of gun control laws, financial regulation, extremes of wealth, etc. After a brief period in the 1940's, 1950's, and early 1960's when the US was more collective, we became greedy, consumerist, and consumption oriented, aided by the political and business elites as mentioned in the post.

If we want the US to be a more collective society we have to initially do so in our behaviors i.e. laws and regulations that rein in the people who would take the concept of freedom to an extreme. Then maybe over an evolutionary time period some of the move impulsive, sensation seeking, ADHDness, genes can be altered to a more balance mix of what makes the US great with more of the collective genes.

IMO, if we do not begin to work on becoming a collective culture now, then climate change, water scarcity, food scarcity, and resource scarcity will do it for us the hard way.

In these days of short attention spans I apologize for the long comment. The rest of my day is busy and I do not have more time to shorten the comment. I wanted to develop an argument for how the evolutionary and dysfunctional forms of freedom have gotten us to this point. And what we need to do to still have some freedom but also "play nice and share in the future sandbox of climate change and post fossil fuel society.

[Feb 11, 2019] Many meaning of the word "free" are different from the "free from coercion" adopted by the Neoliberal Newspeak

Notable quotes:
"... The ruling class has successfully ruled out any concept of consent. Keep bringing consent up and their philosophies will be shown to be the same as gang rapists. ..."
"... They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. ..."
"... They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden ..."
Feb 11, 2019 |

sentido kumon , says: February 3, 2019 at 10:17 am GMT

'Liber' in Latin means:
1) free (man)
2) free from tribute
3) independent, outspoken/frank
4) unimpeded
5) void of

The author needs to recheck his definitions. Voluntary exchange, consent, free markets, free will, etc are just some of the concepts at the heart of the true libertarian thought. The ruling class has successfully ruled out any concept of consent. Keep bringing consent up and their philosophies will be shown to be the same as gang rapists.

"The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make the government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau. What an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight!" – Ludwig Von Mises

[Dec 14, 2018] Hidden neoliberal inner party : US chamber of commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and The Business Roundtable

Notable quotes:
"... The American Chamber of Commerce subsequently expanded its base from around 60,000 firms in 1972 to over a quarter of a million ten years later. Jointly with the National Association of Manufacturers (which moved to Washington in 1972) it amassed an immense campaign chest to lobby Congress and engage in research. The Business Roundtable, an organization of CEOs 'committed to the aggressive pursuit of political power for the corporation', was founded in 1972 and thereafter became the centrepiece of collective pro-business action. ..."
"... Nearly half the financing for the highly respected NBER came from the leading companies in the Fortune 500 list. Closely integrated with the academic community, the NBER was to have a very significant impact on thinking in the economics departments and business schools of the major research universities. ..."
"... In order to realize this goal, businesses needed a political class instrument and a popular base. They therefore actively sought to capture the Republican Party as their own instrument. The formation of powerful political action committees to procure, as the old adage had it, 'the best government that money could buy' was an important step. ..."
"... The Republican Party needed, however, a solid electoral base if it was to colonize power effectively. It was around this time that Republicans sought an alliance with the Christian right. The latter had not been politically active in the past, but the foundation of Jerry Falwell's 'moral majority' as a political movement in 1978 changed all of that. The Republican Party now had its Christian base. ..."
"... It also appealed to the cultural nationalism of the white working classes and their besieged sense of moral righteousness. This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and anti feminism. ..."
"... The alliance between big business and conservative Christians backed by the neoconservatives consolidated, not for the first time has a social group been persuaded to vote against its material, economic, and class interests ..."
"... Any political movement that holds individual freedoms to be sacrosanct is vulnerable to incorporation into the neoliberal fold. ..."
"... Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multiculturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. ..."
"... By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interests could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. ..."
"... Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'postmodernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s. ..."
"... Powell argued that individual action was insufficient. 'Strength', he wrote, 'lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations'. The National Chamber of Commerce, he argued, should lead an assault upon the major institutions––universities, schools, the media, publishing, the courts––in order to change how individuals think 'about the corporation, the law, culture, and the individual'. US businesses did not lack resources for such an effort, particularly when they pooled their resources together. ..."
Nov 27, 2018 |

Themiddlegound -> Themiddlegound , 11 Jun 2013 05:42

The American Chamber of Commerce subsequently expanded its base from around 60,000 firms in 1972 to over a quarter of a million ten years later. Jointly with the National Association of Manufacturers (which moved to Washington in 1972) it amassed an immense campaign chest to lobby Congress and engage in research. The Business Roundtable, an organization of CEOs 'committed to the aggressive pursuit of political power for the corporation', was founded in 1972 and thereafter became the centrepiece of collective pro-business action.

The corporations involved accounted for 'about one half of the GNP of the United States' during the 1970s, and they spent close to $900 million annually (a huge amount at that time) on political matters. Think-tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute, the Center for the Study of American Business, and the American Enterprise Institute, were formed with corporate backing both to polemicize and, when necessary, as in the case of the National Bureau of Economic Research, to construct serious technical and empirical studies and political-philosophical arguments broadly in support of neoliberal policies.

Nearly half the financing for the highly respected NBER came from the leading companies in the Fortune 500 list. Closely integrated with the academic community, the NBER was to have a very significant impact on thinking in the economics departments and business schools of the major research universities. With abundant finance furnished by wealthy individuals (such as the brewer Joseph Coors, who later became a member of Reagan's 'kitchen cabinet') and their foundations (for example Olin, Scaife, Smith Richardson, Pew Charitable Trust), a flood of tracts and books, with Nozick's Anarchy State and Utopia perhaps the most widely read and appreciated, emerged espousing neoliberal values. A TV version of Milton Friedman's Free to Choose was funded with a grant from Scaife in 1977. 'Business was', Blyth concludes, 'learning to spend as a class.

In singling out the universities for particular attention, Powell pointed up an opportunity as well as an issue, for these were indeed centers of anti-corporate and anti-state sentiment (the students at Santa Barbara had burned down the Bank of America building there and ceremonially buried a car in the sands). But many students were (and still are) affluent and privileged, or at least middle class, and in the US the values of individual freedom have long been celebrated (in music and popular culture) as primary. Neoliberal themes could here find fertile ground for propagation. Powell did not argue for extending state power. But business should 'assiduously cultivate' the state and when necessary use it 'aggressively and with determination'

In order to realize this goal, businesses needed a political class instrument and a popular base. They therefore actively sought to capture the Republican Party as their own instrument. The formation of powerful political action committees to procure, as the old adage had it, 'the best government that money could buy' was an important step. The supposedly 'progressive' campaign finance laws of 1971 in effect legalized the financial corruption of politics.

A crucial set of Supreme Court decisions began in 1976 when it was first established that the right of a corporation to make unlimited money contributions to political parties and political action committees was protected under the First Amendment guaranteeing the rights of individuals (in this instance corporations) to freedom of speech.15 Political action committees could thereafter ensure the financial domination of both political parties by corporate, moneyed, and professional association interests. Corporate PACs, which numbered eighty-nine in 1974, had burgeoned to 1,467 by 1982.

The Republican Party needed, however, a solid electoral base if it was to colonize power effectively. It was around this time that Republicans sought an alliance with the Christian right. The latter had not been politically active in the past, but the foundation of Jerry Falwell's 'moral majority' as a political movement in 1978 changed all of that. The Republican Party now had its Christian base.

It also appealed to the cultural nationalism of the white working classes and their besieged sense of moral righteousness. This political base could be mobilized through the positives of religion and cultural nationalism and negatively through coded, if not blatant, racism, homophobia, and anti feminism.

The alliance between big business and conservative Christians backed by the neoconservatives consolidated, not for the first time has a social group been persuaded to vote against its material, economic, and class interests the evangelical Christians eagerly embraced the alliance with big business and the Republican Party as a means to further promote their evangelical and moral agenda.

Themiddlegound -> Themiddlegound , 11 Jun 2013 05:23

Any political movement that holds individual freedoms to be sacrosanct is vulnerable to incorporation into the neoliberal fold.

The worldwide political upheavals of 1968, for example, were strongly inflected with the desire for greater personal freedoms. This was certainly true for students, such as those animated by the Berkeley 'free speech' movement of the 1960s or who took to the streets in Paris, Berlin, and Bangkok and were so mercilessly shot down in Mexico City shortly before the 1968 Olympic Games. They demanded freedom from parental, educational, corporate, bureaucratic, and state constraints. But the '68 movement also had social justice as a primary political objective.

Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multiculturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the the Construction of Consent desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them.

In the early 1970s those seeking individual freedoms and social justice could make common cause in the face of what many saw as a common enemy. Powerful corporations in alliance with an interventionist state were seen to be running the world in individually oppressive and socially unjust ways. The Vietnam War was the most obvious catalyst for discontent, but the destructive activities of corporations and the state in relation to the environment, the push towards mindless consumerism, the failure to address social issues and respond adequately to diversity, as well as intense restrictions on individual possibilities and personal behaviors by state-mandated and 'traditional' controls were also widely resented. Civil rights were an issue, and questions of sexuality and of reproductive rights were very much in play.

For almost everyone involved in the movement of '68, the intrusive state was the enemy and it had to be reformed. And on that, the neoliberals could easily agree. But capitalist corporations, business, and the market system were also seen as primary enemies requiring redress if not revolutionary transformation: hence the threat to capitalist class power.

By capturing ideals of individual freedom and turning them against the interventionist and regulatory practices of the state, capitalist class interests could hope to protect and even restore their position. Neoliberalism was well suited to this ideological task. But it had to be backed up by a practical strategy that emphasized the liberty of consumer choice, not only with respect to particular products but also with respect to lifestyles, modes of expression, and a wide range of cultural practices. Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than a little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'postmodernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s.

In the US case a confidential memo sent by Lewis Powell to the US Chamber of Commerce in August 1971. Powell, about to be elevated to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, argued that criticism of and opposition to the US free enterprise system had gone too far and that 'the time had come––indeed it is long overdue––for the wisdom, ingenuity and resources of American business to be marshaled against those who would destroy it'.

Powell argued that individual action was insufficient. 'Strength', he wrote, 'lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations'. The National Chamber of Commerce, he argued, should lead an assault upon the major institutions––universities, schools, the media, publishing, the courts––in order to change how individuals think 'about the corporation, the law, culture, and the individual'. US businesses did not lack resources for such an effort, particularly when they pooled their resources together.

[Aug 07, 2018] Can Freedom and Capitalism Co-Exist

Notable quotes:
"... Capitalism vs. Freedom: The Toll Road to Serfdom ..."
"... capitalism vs. freedom ..."
"... The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900–1916 ..."
"... Quod erat demonstrandum ..."
"... Wall Street Journal ..."
"... Capitalism vs. Freedom ..."
"... The Shock Doctrine ..."
"... The Great War for Civilization ..."
"... People's History of the United States . ..."
"... socialism or barbarism ..."
"... Notes of an Underground Humanist ..."
"... Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States ..."
"... Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis ..."
Aug 07, 2018 |

Being run by business, American culture suffers from an overwhelming preponderance of stupidity . When a set of institutions as reactionary as big business has a virtual monopoly over government and the media, the kinds of information, entertainment, commentary, ideologies, and educational policies on offer will not conduce to rationality or social understanding. What you'll end up with is, for instance, an electorate 25 percent of whose members are inclined to libertarianism . And the number is even higher among young people. That is to say, huge numbers of people will be exposed to and persuaded by the propaganda of the Cato Institute, the magazine Reason , Ayn Rand's novels, and Milton Friedman's ideological hackery to express their rebellious and anti-authoritarian impulses by becoming "extreme advocates of total tyranny," to quote Chomsky . They'll believe, as he translates, that "power ought to be given into the hands of private, unaccountable tyrannies," namely corporations. They'll think that if you just get government out of the picture and let capitalism operate freely, unencumbered by regulations or oversight or labor unionism, all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. And they'll genuinely believe they're being subversive and anarchistic by proposing such a program.

The spectacle of millions adhering to such a breathtakingly stupid ideology would be comical if it weren't so tragic. I'm an atheist, but Christianity strikes me as a more rational -- and moral -- religion than this "libertarian" (really totalitarian) one of absolute faith in universal privatization, marketization, corporatization, and commoditization. To be a so-called libertarian is to be deplorably ignorant of modern history , economics , commonsense sociology , human psychology , and morality itself . (Regarding morality: if the Golden Rule is an essential maxim, then the communist slogan "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need," which is basically a derivative of the Golden Rule, is fundamental to any humane social organization. Greed and Social Darwinism -- every man for himself -- are hardly morally luminous principles.) Given this reactionary philosophy's intellectual sterility and the fact that it's been refuted countless times, it's tempting to simply ignore it. And most leftists do ignore it. But that's a mistake, as the frightening figure quoted a moment ago (25 percent of the electorate) indicates. It's necessary to challenge "free market" worship whenever and wherever it appears.

The economist Rob Larson has performed an important service, therefore, in publishing his new book Capitalism vs. Freedom: The Toll Road to Serfdom , the more so because the book's lucidity and brevity should win for it a wide readership. In five chapters, Larson systematically demolishes the glib nostrums of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek (in the process also dispatching those other patron saints of the right wing, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and Murray Rothbard). Even the book's title is highly effective: the message " capitalism vs. freedom " should be trumpeted from the hills, since it challenges one of the reigning dogmas of our society. Liberals and leftists themselves sometimes buy into the view that capitalism promotes freedom, arguing only that socialist equality and justice are more important than capitalist freedom. But this is a false framing of the issue. The fact is that socialism, which is to say workers' democratic control of the economy, not only means greater equality and justice than capitalism but also greater freedom, at least for the 99 percent. It is freedom, after all, that has inspired anarchists and even Marxists, including Marx himself .

Larson begins with a brief discussion of two concepts of freedom, negative and positive (a distinction that goes back, as he notes, at least to Isaiah Berlin). Crudely speaking, negative freedom means the absence of external constraint, of a power that can force you to act in particular ways. Positive freedom is the ability or opportunity actually to realize purposes and wishes, to "control your destiny," so to speak. It involves having the means to satisfy desires, as when you have the means to assuage hunger, be adequately clothed and sheltered, and have adequate sanitation. Positive freedom can be thought of as "freedom to," whereas negative freedom is "freedom from." Classical liberals like John Stuart Mill and modern conservatives like Friedman and Hayek are more concerned with negative freedom, which explains their desire for a minimal state; socialists are concerned also with positive freedom, sometimes believing that a stronger state (e.g., a social democracy) can help ensure such freedom for the majority of people.

Friedman and Hayek argued that free-market capitalism, with minimal intervention by the state, is the surest guarantee of negative liberty. Larson's book is devoted mainly to refuting this belief, which is widely held across the political spectrum; but it also defends the less controversial claim that capitalism is incompatible with widespread positive liberty too. "Capitalism," Larson writes, "withholds opportunities to enjoy freedom (required by the positive view of freedom) and also encourages the growth of economic power (the adversary of liberty in the negative view of freedom)." That concentrations of economic power in themselves threaten negative liberty might be challenged, but this is a weak argument, among other reasons because it's clear that centers of (economic) power will tend to dominate and manipulate the state in their own interest. They'll construct coercive apparatuses to subordinate others to their power, which will itself enable further accumulations of power, etc., until finally the society is ruled by an oligarchy. Thus, from "pure" capitalism you get an oligarchy with the power to coerce.

However obvious this point may seem to those possessed of common sense, it's far from obvious to libertarians and most conservatives. According to Friedman, "the kind of economic organization that provides economic freedom directly, namely, competitive capitalism, also promotes political freedom because it separates economic power from political power and in this way enables the one to offset the other." Here we encounter the typical naïve idealism of conservatives (and, indeed, of centrists and liberals), which I've discussed at length here . Rather than analyzing the real conditions of real social structures, conservatives traffic in airy abstractions about "freedom," "the separation of political and economic power," the lofty virtues of "competitive capitalism," and so on. Evidently it doesn't occur to Friedman that economic power will tend to confer political power, and therefore that, far from offsetting each other, the two will be approximately fused. The economically powerful might not directly hold political office, but because of the resources they possess, they'll have inordinate power and influence over political leaders. This is intuitively obvious, but it's also borne out by empirical research .

It's worth pointing out, too, something that Larson doesn't really focus on: within corporations, freedom, even negative freedom, is severely curtailed. In the absence of a union, the employee has hardly any rights. There's no freedom of expression, for example, and the boss can threaten you, manipulate you however he wants, verbally abuse you, behave horrendously towards you with probably no repercussions for himself. Capitalism in fact is a kind of fragmented totalitarianism, as privately totalitarian corporate entities proliferate all over society and constitute its essential infrastructure, its foundation . The more oligopolistic they become, to some degree even fused with the state, the less "fragmented" and more dangerous the totalitarianism is. Eventually the "libertarian" millennium might be achieved in which all countervailing forces, such as unions, are eradicated and the population is left wholly at the mercy of corporations, reveling in its sublime freedom to be totally dominated.

Anyway, to resume the thread: Larson is right that "in portraying [the] concentration of money in society as a reasonable development" -- e.g., as a reward for successfully competing against other capitalists -- "the libertarian tradition completely dismisses the power of concentrated money." Hayek, for example, claims that in a "competitive society" (a meaningless abstraction: different kinds of societies can be "competitive") nobody possesses excessive power. "So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people." Okay, fine, maybe not exclusive power, but to the degree that property is divided among fewer and fewer owners, these people can achieve overwhelming power to determine the income and position of others. Such as by acquiring greater "positive freedom" to dominate the state in their interests and against the interests of others, who thus proportionately lose positive freedom and possibly (again) even negative freedom, e.g. if the wealthy can get laws passed that restrict dissidents' right to free speech or free assembly.

More generally, it goes without saying that positive freedom is proportional to how much money you have. It apparently doesn't bother most libertarians that if you're poor and unable to find an employer to rent yourself to (in the gloriously "free, voluntary, and non-coercive" labor market), you won't be able to eat or have a minimally decent life. Hopefully private charities and compassionate individuals will come forward to help you; but if not, well, it's nothing that society as a whole should care about. Strictly speaking, there is no right to live (or to have shelter, food, health care, education, etc.); there is only a right not to be interfered with by others (except in the workplace). What a magnificent moral vision.

Libertarians admit that concentrations of wealth emerge in capitalism, but they deprecate the idea that capitalism leads to competition-defeating market concentration in such forms as oligopolies, monopolies, and monopsonies (like Wal-Mart). Usually these are created, supposedly, by government interference. But most businessmen and serious scholars disagree, pointing, for instance, to the significance of economies of scale. The famous business historian Alfred Chandler showed that many industries quickly became oligopolistic on the basis, in large part, of economies of scale. Historian Douglas Dowd observes that large-scale industrial technology has made it both necessary for firms to enlarge and possible for them to control their markets, while Australian economist Steve Keen argues that "increasing returns to scale mean that the perfectly competitive market is unstable: it will, in time break down [into oligopoly or monopoly]."

Larson might have gone further in this line of argument by emphasizing just how much capitalists hate market discipline -- i.e., the "free market" -- and are constantly trying to overcome it. They're obsessed with controlling markets, whether through massive advertising campaigns, destruction or absorption of their competitors, price-fixing and other forms of collusion, or the formation of hundreds of trade associations. The historian Gabriel Kolko's classic study The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900–1916 revealed that the hatred of market anarchy is so extreme that Progressive-Era oligopolists were actually the main force behind government regulation of industry (to benefit business, not the public), as with the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Federal Reserve Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act. Andrew Carnegie and Elbert H. Gary, head of U.S. Steel, even advocated government price-fixing! So much for the corporate propaganda about how wonderful free markets are.

If government regulation is primarily responsible for monopoly elements in industries, as Friedman and Hayek argue, then you'd think that the deregulation tsunami of the neoliberal era would have led to greater competition across the economy. Did it? Not exactly. Larson quotes a Forbes article:

Since freight railroads were deregulated in 1980, the number of large, so-called Class I railroads has shrunk from 40 to seven. In truth, there are only four that matter These four superpowers now take in more than 90% of the industry's revenue An estimated one-third of shippers have access to only one railroad.

Quod erat demonstrandum . But there are many other examples. The deregulatory Telecommunications Act of 1996 was supposed to throw open the industry to competition; what it accomplished, according to the Wall Street Journal , was "a new phase in the hyper-consolidation of the cable industry An industry that was once a hodgepodge of family-owned companies has become one of the nation's most visible and profitable oligopolies." These trends have occurred throughout the media , on a global scale.

The same consolidation is found in the airline industry, where deregulation "set off a flurry of mergers" (as the Journal notes), "creating a short roster of powerful giants. And consumers are, in many cases, paying the price." In fact, it's well known that deregulation has facilitated an enormous wave of mergers and acquisitions since the 1980s. (Similarly, the big businesses, and later the mergers, of the Gilded Age appeared in a time of little public regulation.) All this market-driven oligopolization has certainly not increased consumer freedom, or the freedom of anyone but the top fraction of one percent in wealth.

Speaking of communications and the media, another classic libertarian claim is hollow: far from encouraging a rich and competitive diversity of information and opinion, the free market tends to narrow the spectrum of opinion and information sources. When Hayek writes of totalitarian governments that "The word 'truth' ceases to have its old meaning. It describes no longer something to be found, with the individual conscience as the sole arbiter it becomes laid down by authority," referring to the "spirit of complete cynicism as regards truth the loss of the sense of even the meaning of truth," it is easy to think he's describing the mass media in the heavily capitalist United States. For one thing, because of scale economies and other market dynamics, over time fewer and fewer people or groups can afford to run, say, a successful and profitable newspaper. Across the West, in the twentieth century competition eventually weeded out working-class newspapers that had fewer resources than the capitalist mass media, and the spectrum of information consumed by the public drastically narrowed. "Market forces thus accomplished more than the most repressive measures of an aristocratic state," to quote the authors of an important study .

At the same time, the sources of information became less and less independent, due to the development of the advertising market. Advertisers "acquired a de facto licensing power because, without their support, newspapers ceased to be economically viable." As Edward Herman says, it wasn't the final consumer's but the advertiser's choices that determined media prosperity and survival, and hence the content (broadly speaking) of the news and opinion pieces. Moreover, the media increasingly consisted of giant corporations who had basically the same interests as advertisers anyway. The result corresponded less to Friedman's slogan Free to Choose than to Edward Bernays' slogan Free to Imagine That We Choose (because what we're choosing from is a narrow range of corporate and government propaganda ).

Capitalism vs. Freedom also has a chapter on "political freedom," and another on the "freedom of future generations" -- which is nonexistent in a strictly capitalist society because future generations have no money and therefore no power. They have to deal with whatever market externalities result from their ancestors' monomaniacal pursuit of profit. Including the possible destruction of civilization from global warming, a rather large externality. Even in the present, the IMF has estimated that the "external" costs of using fossil fuels, counting public health effects and environmental ramifications, are already $5 trillion a year. Again, this should suggest to anyone with a few neurons still functioning that markets aren't particularly "efficient." Especially considering the existence of major public goods that are undersupplied by the market, such as roads, bridges, sanitation systems, public parks, libraries, scientific research, public education, and social welfare programs. What do Friedman and Hayek think of these things? Well, Hayek was writing for a Western European audience, so he had to at least pretend to be reasonable. "[T]he preservation of competition [is not] incompatible with an extensive system of social services," he wrote, which leaves "a wide and unquestioned field for state activity." Okay. But that's a significant concession. Apparently his "libertarianism" wasn't very consistent.

For Friedman, public goods should be paid for by those who use them and not by a wealthy minority that is being taxed against its wishes. "There is all the difference in the world," he insists, "between two kinds of assistance through government that seem superficially similar: first, 90 percent of us agreeing to impose taxes on ourselves in order to help the bottom 10 percent, and second, 80 percent voting to impose taxes on the top 10 percent to help the bottom 10 percent." Thus, the wealthy and powerful shouldn't have to pay taxes to maintain services from which they don't directly benefit. We shouldn't subtract any of the positive freedom from people who have an enormous amount of it (i.e., of power , the concentration of which libertarians are supposed to oppose ) in order to give more positive freedom to people who have very little of it. That would be unforgivably compassionate.

Most of Larson's chapter on political freedom consists of salutary reminders of how politics actually works in the capitalist United States. Drawing on Thomas Ferguson's investment theory of party competition , Larson describes the political machinations of big business, the concerted and frequently successful efforts to erode the positive and negative freedoms of the populace, the permanent class war footing, the fanatical union-busting, the absurdly cruel austerity programs of the IMF (which, again, serve but to crush popular freedom and power), and the horrifying legacy of European and U.S. imperialism around the world. Readers who want to learn more about the dark side of humanity can consult William Blum's Killing Hope , Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (which also describes Hayek and Friedman's love-affairs with neo-Nazi Latin American generals), Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilization , and most of Noam Chomsky's books . In light of all these practices and policies that have emerged, directly or indirectly, out of the dynamics of the West's market economy, to argue that capitalism promotes human freedom is to be a hopeless intellectual fraud and amoral minion of power.

(If that judgment sounds harsh, consider this gem from Hayek, directed against measures to ensure worker security: "It is essential that we should relearn frankly to face the fact that freedom can be had only at a price and that as individuals we must be prepared to make severe material sacrifices to preserve our liberty." More exactly, working-class individuals have to make severe sacrifices to preserve the liberty of the capitalist class.)

In fact, to the extent that we have freedom and democracy at all, it has been achieved mainly through decades and centuries of popular struggle against capitalism, and against vicious modes of production and politics (including slavery and Latin American semi-feudalism) that have been essential to the functioning of the capitalist world-economy. Göran Therborn's classic article " The Rule of Capital and the Rise of Democracy " gives details, as does Howard Zinn's famous People's History of the United States .

Larson, unlike the charlatans whose work he reviews, actually does believe that "concentrated power is opposed to human freedom," so he dedicates his final chapter to briefly expositing a genuinely libertarian vision, that of socialism. Here I need only refer to the work of such writers as Anton Pannekoek, Rudolf Rocker, Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta, Murray Bookchin, and others in the anarchist and/or left-Marxist tradition. There's a lot of talk of socialism these days, but few commentators (except on the left) know what they're talking about. For instance, like Hayek and Friedman, they tend to equate socialism with state control, authoritarianism, the Soviet Union, and other boogeymen. This ignores the fact that anarchism, which reviles the state, is committed to socialism. So virtually all mainstream commentary on socialism is garbage and immediately refuted from that one consideration alone. The basic point that conservatives, centrists, and liberals refuse to mention, because it sounds too appealing, is that socialism means nothing else but worker and community control. Economic, political, and social democracy. It is, in essence, a set of moral principles that can theoretically be fleshed out in a variety of ways, for instance some preserving a place for the market and others based only on democratic planning (at the level of the neighborhood, the community, the firm, the city, the nation, etc.). The core of socialism is freedom -- the absence of concentrated power -- not absolute equality.

Whether a truly socialist, libertarian society will ever exist is an open question, but certain societies have approached the ideal more closely than others. The Soviet Union was, and the U.S. is, very far from socialism, while Scandinavian countries are a little closer (since the population generally has more freedom and power there than in the U.S. and the Soviet Union). The Bolivian Constitution of 2009 is vastly closer to socialism, which is to say morality and the ideal of human dignity, than the reactionary U.S. Constitution . On a smaller scale, worker cooperatives -- see this book -- tend to embody a microcosmic socialism.

Larson ends his book on the note sounded by Rosa Luxemburg a century ago: socialism or barbarism . Margaret Thatcher's infamous declaration "There is no alternative" can now be given a more enlightened meaning: there is no alternative to socialism, except the destruction of civilization and maybe the human species. Morality and pragmatic necessity, the necessities of survival, now coincide. Concentrated corporate power must be dismantled and democracy substituted for it -- which is a global project that will take generations but is likely to develop momentum as society experiences ever-greater crises.

In the end, perhaps Friedman, Hayek, and their ilk will be seen to have contributed to the realization of a truly libertarian program after all, albeit indirectly. For by aiding in the growth of an increasingly authoritarian system, they may have hastened the birth of a democratic opposition that will finally tear up the foundations of tyranny and lay the groundwork for an emancipated world. Or at least a world in which Friedmans and Hayeks can't become intellectual celebrities. For now, I'd settle for that. Join the debate on Facebook More articles by: Chris Wright

Chris Wright has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is the author of Notes of an Underground Humanist , Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States , and Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis . His website is .

The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows

The Guardian
The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows.

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet's coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as "an opportunity to radically reform the educational system" in New Orleans.

Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating "investor-state dispute settlement": offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.

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