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Neoliberalism as feudalism or even slavery for the poor

"feudalism is a hierarchical system of distributed administration. A king is nominally in charge or “owns” a kingdom, but he has lords who administer its first primary division, the fiefdom. Lords in turn have vassals, who administer further subdivisions or, in the cases of smaller fiefs, different aspects of governance. Vassals may have their own captains and middle managers, typically knights but also clerks and priests, who in turn employ apprentices/novices/pages who train under them so as to one day move up to middle management. If this is starting to resemble modern corporate structure, then bonus points to you."

Anyone in a position of vassalage was dependent upon the largess of his immediate patron/lord/whatever for both his status and nominal wealth. The lowest rungs of the administrative ladder were responsible for keeping the peasants, the pool of labor, in line either through force or through the very same system of dependence upon largess that frames the lord/vassal relationship.

Feudalism: it’s about the social hierachical structure, not so much about ehich classes are at the top and which are at the bottom.

It’s not that peasants can be vassals in the overall order so much as they are in the subject position, but without the attendant capacity to then lord it over someone beneath them. Lord/vassal in feudalism are also generic terms to describe members of a fixed relationship of patronage. It’s confusing, because those terms are also used for levels of the overall hierarchy.

The Church realized early on that imposing its ideal of a theocratic State (“city of God”) led by the Pope upon the strong-headed barbarian chiefs (Lombards, Franks, Wisigoths and others) that set up various kingdoms in Europe was impossible.

Hence the second best approach, feudalism: a double hierarchy (worldly and spiritual). The populations of Europe were subject to two parallel hierarchical authorities with taxation, judicial and other economic powers (such as the right to determine when and for whom to work).

I suspect that the similarity of medeavil fuedalism with the relationship between a large modern corporation and its employees is not properly appreciated because the latter, unlike the former, does not necessarily include direct control over living conditions (housing, land, rent), even though in the end there may be a similar degree of effective servitude (lack of mobility and alternatives, and so effective entrapment at low wages) .


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[Sep 03, 2018] Neo-liberalism Expressed as Simple Rules by Lambert Strether

Mar 17, 2014 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

What is neoliberalism? Neoliberalism (a.k.a. The Washington Consensus ) is the dominant ideology of the political class in Washington D.C., shared by both legacy parties. In fact, it's not clear there is another ideology, which is why we get seemingly weird policymaking processes like RomneyCare morphing into ObamaCare, even as proponents of each version of the same plan hate each other, "narcissism of small differences"-style. Of course, in neo-liberalism's house are many mansions, many factions, and many funding sources, so it's natural, or not , that an immense quantity of obfuscation and expert opinion has accumulated over time , making for many fine distinctions between various shades of neo-liberalism.

In this brief post, I hope to clear the ground by proposing two simple rules to which neo-liberalism can be reduced. They are:

Of course, these rules can't be applied, willy-nilly, inartfully, in just any context; Rule #1 -- and here we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the work of Outis Philalithopoulos on academic choice theory -- doesn't apply to in (let's label it) Context #1: The world of the neo-liberal practitioners themselves ; the academic guilds, media outlets[1], and think tanks to which they adhere, Flexian style , are distinctly not market-driven ; just look at Thomas Friedman . It follows that Rule #2 does not apply to neo-liberal practitioners either, because of their social position just described in Context #1: "wingnut welfare" and its equivalent in the "progressive" nomenklatura ; they will have -- to strike a blow at random -- corporate health insurance. In addition, we have Context #2: The world of the 0.01%, to whom no rules apply by definition. Summarizing, the rules do not apply in the following two contexts:

Both have impunity[2]. These asymmetries will become more interesting shortly.

So (reviewing), to Rule #1: " Because markets " uses that stupid "because" meme :

Let's start with the dull stuff, because pragmatism. Linguists are calling the "prepositional-because." Or the "because-noun." [For example:] But Iowa still wants to sell eggs to California, because money. It's a usage, in other words, that is exceptionally bloggy and aggressively casual and implicitly ironic. And also highly adaptable. it also conveys a certain universality. When I say, for example, "The talks broke down because politics," I'm not just describing a circumstance. I'm also describing a category. I'm making grand and yet ironized claims, announcing a situation and commenting on that situation at the same time. I'm offering an explanation and rolling my eyes -- and I'm able to do it with one little word. Because variety. Because Internet. Because language.

Because neo-liberalism. Because I like the idea, a lot, of catching the Mount Pelerin Society, Pinochet, Diane Rehm, the Friedmans, Joe Biden, Rush Limbaugh, and the people who drafted the Democratic platform in one big net, and then deep-sixing the entire squirming and gesticulating political class with language that's "exceptionally bloggy and aggressively casual and implicitly ironic."

And this tactic really is fair. Trap a neo-liberal in conversation next to a whiteboard, or hand them a napkin, and you can probably coax them to "educate" you by drawing the famous "Because Markets" diagram, which looks like this:

Figure 1: "Because Markets"

And when your targeted neo-liberal is done sketching, they will express the idea, with varying degrees of quasi-religious fervor, that the price set by the intersection of the downward-sloping demand curve and the upward-sloping supply curve is the right price .

Except the supply and demand curve ain't necessarily so. The other day, I saw an elegant hi-so lady eating a Krispy Kreme in Bangkok's Siam Paragon . With a fork! That donut cost her 27 baht -- 84¢, 5¢ more than the US , in a city with half the cost-of-living of New York ! So, what's going on? To her, Krispy Kreme donuts are a luxury good. How does she know that? Exactly because they have a high price! Therefore -- Thorstein Veblen would be proud -- those donuts have an upward sloping demand curve ! (Yves, who is actually qualified to talk about this stuff, goes over these issues in more detail than I can, in ECONned .) So, empirically, seeking truth from facts, as they say, Figure 1 is by no means universal. And that's before we get to the idea that "Because markets" isn't appropriate for vast swaths of human endeavor; Common Pool Resources, for example, are not best managed as a form of private property .

But by "right," your neo-liberal interlocutor will not mean right mechanically or arithmetically, but right morally ; that is, the best of all possible worlds will be created when there are no pesky artificial factors interfering with the frictionless operation of the sacred curves. Note, however, that by the asymmetry of Context #1, Figure 1 does not apply to the neo-liberal practitioner themselves, nor, by the asymmetry of Context #2, to the class of people who own the markets in which the prices are set. So, if unions raise the price of human rental, that's not just an ordinary bargaining process, it's wrong, even evil: It's a defilement of the sacred curves. But if a squillionaire uses their power to bust that same union, that's not merely no problem, it's not even part of the problem (by Context #2). Hence, we have the pleasant and realistic outcome that the price of a Walmart worker's time isn't enough to live on , the price of the (no doubt credentialled) neo-liberal practititioner's time is somewhere in, er, the "middle," and the price of a squillionaire's time is so high they buy grotesquely expensive homes and forget they own them . Because markets.

So, to Rule #2 (reviewing): " Go die!
" Note that, unlike Rule #1, Rule #2 is cast in the imperative. However, just as in Rule #1, Contexts #1 and #2 apply. The imperative is not for everyone! That is, the 0.01% are not sent the message, along every possible channel, to "Go die!" No no. They are told -- at least by themselves -- to "Go to Mars!" (Which I wish they would do, and leave us alone.) Take ObamaCare. Please. Wendell Potter, who used to do PR for the health insurance industry, explains how "Because Markets" works in that context. (I mean, they call it a "Marketplace" for a reason, right?)

Lawmakers who wrote the Affordable Care Act fell for [assuming good faith] the health insurance industry's insistence that Americans want "choice and competition." [Rule #1, which lawmakers share with insurers.] Having worked in that industry for two decades, I know the real reason insurers and their allies kept reciting the "choice and competition" mantra was to scare lawmakers away from even daring to give serious thought to a single-payer health care system [which is a Rule #1 violation, at least in for citizens seeking treatment].

And I also know that insurers benefit from the marketplace confusion that "choice and competition" can create. I can assure you that some insurers are counting on you becoming overwhelmed by all the choices and picking a plan that might appear at first glance to be a bargain. But beware: if you're not careful and pick a plan without really kicking the tires, you very possibly will be buying something that could wind up costing you much more than you ever imagined if you get sick or injured.

That happened to my friend Donna Smith, who as executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation, knows more about health insurance than most of us. She spent quite a bit of time last fall on the Colorado exchange trying to figure out which plan would offer the best value for her and her husband. If she had to do it over again, she would have taken the additional step of calling the insurance companies directly after reviewing the plans they were offering on the exchange, just to be certain of what her out-of-pocket obligations would be if she had to be hospitalized during the year.

A cancer survivor, Donna knew there would be a chance she might get sick again and need expensive care [Rule #2]. It never occurred to her, though, that picking a gold or platinum level plan with a higher premium would likely have been better deal than the silver Kaiser Permanente plan she opted for and that seemed to be more affordable.

To make shopping for coverage even more challenging, Kaiser and most other insurers offer several silver plans on the Colorado exchange, so Donna had to spend time trying to figure out which silver plan would be the best deal.

Donna told me the she took the time to compare the monthly premiums, co-pays and annual deductibles of each of the silver plans before making her decision. "I felt that the one I chose offered the most coverage I could afford with my premium buying dollar," she said.

Sure enough, within days after the plan went into effect on January 1, Donna got sick and was hospitalized for a week.

To her shock, she later found out some limitations of her coverage that made her overall financial responsibility much higher.

You can see that Smith really was making a life-and-death choice when she purchased insurance in the "Marketplace" designed by insurance companies. And if you multiply Smith's story by millions nationwide, you'll see that those are not good at manipulating the market to their ends, or don't have the hours to spend that Donna does, are more likely to have lethal outcomes from their choices -- choices they are mandated to make only so that parasitical health insurance rent extractors can make a buck -- than those who have better skills, or have the hours to spend, or who have their insurance purchased for them by trusted agents. Statistically, and actuaries no doubt can calculate this sort of thing, a percentage of the insured will not make the choices that will get them the care they need, and, again statistically, a certain percentage of those will lose their lives. Because markets.

All of brings me to a strong story by Annie Lowrey in the Times , which was the impetus behind this post. In fact, it ticked me off so much I can hardly think straight:

Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap

Fairfax County, Va., and McDowell County, W.Va., are separated by 350 miles, about a half-day's drive. Traveling west from Fairfax County, the gated communities and bland architecture of military contractors give way to exurbs, then to farmland and eventually to McDowell's coal mines and the forested slopes of the Appalachians. Perhaps the greatest distance between the two counties is this: Fairfax is a place of the haves [Contexts #1 and #2], and McDowell of the have-nots. Just outside of Washington, fat government contracts [that is, through policy choice] and a growing technology sector buoy the median [!!] household income in Fairfax County up to $107,000, one of the highest in the nation. McDowell, with the decline of coal, has little in the way of industry. Unemployment is high. Drug abuse is rampant. Median household income is about one-fifth that of Fairfax.

One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq .

Since the 1980s, "socioeconomic status [class] has become an even more important indicator of life expectancy." That was the finding of a 2008 report by the Congressional Budget Office. But dollars in a bank account have never added a day to anyone's life, researchers stress. Instead, those dollars are at work in a thousand daily-life decisions [like Donna Smith's] -- about jobs, medical care, housing, food and exercise -- with a cumulative effect on longevity.

"Why might income have an effect on morbidity or mortality?" said David Kindig, an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and an expert in longevity issues. "We have these causal pathways, through better jobs, better health insurance, better choice of behaviors, he added. On top of that, "there's the stress effects of poverty and low educational status."

[T]he contrast between McDowell and Fairfax shows just how deeply entrenched these trends are, with consequences reaching all the way from people's pocketbooks to their graves.

Because markets. Go die![4]

NOTES

[1] The social experiment of the moment, squillionaires with big ideas , has yet to play out in the media. Too soon to tell!

[2] Until it's too late , but that is a theme for another day.

[3] Via a podcast from sadly decayed New Yorker . It's quite a treat to hear Herzberg and Remnick gradually allow themselves to dimly understand that they know literally nothing of the experience of the average person buying Obamacare because they have never had to buy their own insurance since they get it corporately (see Context #1).

[4] Again from Lowrey, a fine example of Rule #2:

"These things are not nearly as clear as they seem, or as clear as epidemiologists seem to think," said Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton.

Just doing his job .

UPDATE Adding, I'm not claiming that I've synthesized the neo-liberal literature. My claim is that if you engage a neo-liberal in conversation on policy ("at the whiteboard"), at some point you will be able to reduce what they say to rule #1 as a premise and rule #2 as an injunction, given the asymmetrical contexts #1 and #2. It's rather like the famous headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead," but on a society-wide scale, and with the 0.01% in the place of Ford.


Leonidas , March 17, 2014 at 8:40 am

My favorite quote regarding supply-demand curves goes something like "Like unicorns, supply-demand curves are often drawn but never seen in reality". From the book Economyths. A highly entertaining and readable debunking of neoclassical economics theory.

Ulysses , March 17, 2014 at 8:58 am

What a superb post! I particularly enjoyed how you correctly identified "parasitical rent extraction" as the preferred modus operandi of the 1% and their enablers.
How could we boil down an ideology opposed to neoliberalism?
1) Because humanity. We are all brothers and sisters who should care for one another.
2) Go live in joy and harmony. Caring for one another, and the health of our environment, we can enjoy living and creating together in an atmosphere free of undue stress and strife.

Jagger , March 17, 2014 at 10:29 am

Absolutely. Now go read the story about "How One City turned Poverty into a Prison Sentence" in the links section. It is a case study of rent extraction with jail as the final profit making solution when the poor are sucked dry. Money and politicians have so corrupted our democracy that it has become predatory. The political system is broke and I really don't see any real solutions to breaking the grip of those corrupting the system.

Vatch , March 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

I haven't had time to read much of what's in NC today, but I did read part of the Poverty/Prison article. Absolutely infuriating! When people can't pay their fines, community service should be an option. But I guess private companies don't make any profits from community service.

Alejandro , March 17, 2014 at 12:32 pm

"The political system is broke and I really don't see any real solutions to breaking the grip of those corrupting the system."

"I can UNDERSTAND pessimism, but I don't BELIEVE in it. It's not simply a matter of faith, but of historical EVIDENCE. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give HOPE, because for hope we don't need certainty, only POSSIBILITY."-Howard Zinn

McMike , March 17, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Note: the poor person is not the only one sucked dry, and that's not even the main point.

The goal of the prison industrial complex is to suck the middle class dry through privatized taxpayer funded prisons.

digi_owl , March 17, 2014 at 9:05 am

I found myself wondering if CIA has been acting as the "PR" office for this mentality, ever since the days of the Dulles brothers

Banger , March 17, 2014 at 9:24 am

Indeed they have–Operation Mockingbird started it all and then metastasized into our current completely controlled "press" (the Mightier Wurlitzer).

James Levy , March 17, 2014 at 9:06 am

I think "because markets" was abetted by the Left-Liberal "postmodern turn" of the 1970s and 80s. The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements had a hard moral center. Biting into them could crack teeth. Postmodernism and certain kinds of multiculturalism were gooey all the way through. They allowed the professoriate and the outside intellectuals to not have to make moral distinctions and moral choices. Everything could be analyzed (thus boosting publication output) and no hard work of condemnation, organization, or resistance need happen, because language was indeterminate, morals relative, and knowledge suspect. Surrender to the market was a way for a bunch of soft, queasy people to not have to make hard choices and defend them (such defense, in the ideological mood of the day, being a sign of a lack of "sophistication", "philosophical rigor", and "nuance", and an indicator of "crude" thinking–in other words, you'd be seen as a naive dunce not worth being granted tenure).

And, if you were one of those profs who could parlay the latest methodology into a big, splashy list of publications and exploit the burgeoning star system, the market was very, very good to you. So why ask such vulgar materialistic questions about economic outcomes when you could add a gay black woman to your syllabus and feel like you were "exploding the canon", "fighting the power", and "sticking it to the Man"?

Banger , March 17, 2014 at 9:27 am

Wow! I think your critique is spot on. The rot starts, in many ways, with the U.S. intellectual class that has been, largely, silenced and/or assigned to mediocre endeavors as you suggest.

Ulysses , March 17, 2014 at 10:24 am

Yes. As Chris Hedges noted some time ago:

"Universities no longer train students to think critically, to examine and critique systems of power and cultural and political assumptions, to ask the broad questions of meaning and morality once sustained by the humanities. These institutions have transformed themselves into vocational schools. They have become breeding grounds for systems managers trained to serve the corporate state. In a Faustian bargain with corporate power, many of these universities have swelled their endowments and the budgets of many of their departments with billions in corporate and government dollars. College presidents, paid enormous salaries as if they were the heads of corporations, are judged almost solely on their ability to raise money. In return, these universities, like the media and religious institutions, not only remain silent about corporate power but also condemn as "political" all within their walls who question corporate malfeasance and the excesses of unfettered capitalism."
http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/item/the_death_of_the_liberal_class_20101029

allcoppedout , March 17, 2014 at 11:05 am

Universities used to teach only a small number (5% when I went) and HE has expanded to a target of 50%. I don't wear the better days argument implicit in this. Standards have dropped so far it's hard to teach anything conceptual and most staff wouldn't be up to it. I suspect universities were never much good and people got better education in jobs with decent firms. And what of virtue ethics and other such clap-trap? Most of the prats who came up with that didn't challenge slavery. The German elite got bildung which helped them not at all to resist the Nazis. Scientists get none of that rot and turn out more generally ethical and leftist than the rest of HE output.

Lambert Strether , March 17, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I think that's very perceptive and I agree. I always knew the deconstructionists were up to no good -- readers will correct me but my impression is they destroyed English Department after English Department -- but your comment reminds how very no good their "no good" was.

MikeNY , March 17, 2014 at 8:20 pm

I daresay Harold Bloom would concur!

readerOfTeaLeaves , March 18, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Agreed.
They destroyed English departments, but the destroyers got tenure tracks and a lot of goodies, so perhaps like death by carbon monoxide poisoning, they were largely (and arrogantly, in a few cases that I've seen UpCloseAndPersonal) oblivious of the harm their sanctimonious behavior created.

Waves , March 17, 2014 at 9:54 am

Krugman totally nails it. Because he rocks.
Here's the link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/opinion/krugman-that-old-time-whistle.html?ref=paulkrugman

@Lambert Strether
You nailed it, too, but I personally would have changed "markets" to "psychotic parasitical greed and lust", but that is probably too long. I guess one word is the limit. *sigh*

Lambert Strether , March 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Krugman writes: "economic opportunity has shriveled for half the population." I'd like to see a little acknowledgment that NAFTA had something to do with that. And since trade is Krugman's bailiwick, I'd like to see a full-throated denunciation of TPP, instead of that lame promise to do "homework" (in his own field?!) followed by a nothing-burger of a column.

Krugman talks a good game. He's still a card-carrying member of the political class, and a supporter of ObamaCare, which is a "Because markets. Go die!" solution if ever I've seen one, which is covered in the post .

Dan Kervick , March 17, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Yeah, they are all trying to carry water for The Party while grudgingly admitting that the buckets are full of holes, or pretending that it's only the other guys who are carrying the buckets.

Banger , March 17, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Of course he's a member of the political class! You don't get to write for the NYT if you aren't–not any more. Look the mainstream Party Line is the only game in town. Who will be there for him when he loses his place at the table? The left has not made it easy for people to turn left–where is the funding, the organization and so on? The mainstream Washington consensus is all there is right now–TINA is a reality because the left perpetually sleeps and believes that cries of "it's not fair!" are enough.

TK421 , March 17, 2014 at 10:08 am

" Because markets."

Can't I go anywhere without seeing internet speak?

Thor's Hammer , March 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

Neo-liberal is a wuss phrase invented by guilt ridden liberals to avoid using the word that truly describes the state of affairs.
"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power"
― Benito Mussolini
"We have buried the putrid corpse of liberty"
― Benito Mussolini

Vatch , March 17, 2014 at 11:58 am

Please don't think that I am defending either Neo-Liberalism or Fascism; I'm not. Both are odious. But it's not clear that Mussolini actually said that about corporatism, since that appears to be a mistranslation of the Italian word "corporatzione" See WikiQuote on Mussolini's Disputed Quote :

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power."

This misunderstanding of the meaning of 'corporatzione' spread rapidly in the United States after appearing in a column by Molly Ivins (24 November 2002). It is repeated often and sometimes attributed to the "Fascism" entry in the 1932 Enciclopedia Italiana, but does not appear there. See "Mussolini on the Corporate State" by Chip Berlet which discusses the corporatzione – councils of workers, managers and other groups set up by the Fascist Party to control the economy and everyone in it.

Here's the Chip Berlet article . Since I don't speak Italian, I don't know what the truth about this is. Perhaps an NC reader who is fluent in Italian can comment for us.

nobody , March 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm

According to Guido Preparata:

Fascism's corporativismo was something altogether different -- the corporazioni were State-mandated guilds; it's another story, entirely. What we have in the US, instead, is a system governed by an ever more oligarchically-diseased, and outwardly aggressive, bureau-technocracy, which, internally, presides over a gradual privatization of public-functions, a sweeping commercialization of all spiritual endeavors (higher learning and the arts), and a virtual monopolization (corporatization) of all economic activity.

http://www.larsschall.com/2012/06/10/the-business-as-usual-behind-the-slaughter/

MaroonBulldog , March 18, 2014 at 12:09 am

Thepolitical idea of "corporatism" was not original to Mussolini, but is far older. In shortest form, a "corporatist" state was one in which persons were represented as members of a particular class, as opposed to a "representative state" where persons were represented as residents of a particular geographical community. In crude form, plumbers would be represented in the councils of state by a plumber, veterinarians by a veterinarian, etc. The Wikipedia article under this entry describes some of the 19th century intellectual history of this political idea

grayslady , March 17, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Agreed. Totally trendy and juvenile. Belongs in the same category as "Let's do lunch." English is a rich language, offering many word choices with which to craft a scathing critique without resorting to slang.

hunkerdown , March 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Because bourgeois affectations?

grayslady , March 17, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Since when has the proper use of language become a bourgeois affectation? Did I miss the announcement?

different clue , March 18, 2014 at 2:47 am

If one wishes to reach the non-bourgeoisly non-affected, one must resign oneself to the necessity of using non-bourgeois non-affectations.

Maynard Witherell , March 17, 2014 at 10:30 am

While I am (I think) in agreement with you, this is one of the most obfuscatory (your word) articles I have looked at on NC for awhile. Preaching to the choir is one thing (I am, after all, in that choir), but all that grammatical analysis that morphs into economic analysis may be cute but is just unnecessary. Please write more clearly next time!

allcoppedout , March 17, 2014 at 10:49 am

I didn't understand why anyone would want a crispy cream doughnut.

Lambert's walk through is very similar to modern work on argument. We tend to avoid best argument and just do easy ones with obvious "evidence", which is pretty dumb as data and theory spin together and there is no neutral observation language. Markets equate with 'suck it and see'. Neo-liberalism is well over 2000 years old. It's essence is lying. Machiavelli described it well. You say a pile of liberal 'dulldung' in public expressing your princely virtue and act as a ruthless bastard behind the scenes, trading on insider information and keeping savage attack dogs fed with the profits. Virtue ethics are extensively taught to an elite cadre in a system supported by slaves. Honesty is the best policy is taught alongside the need to lawyer up and deceive the enemy with clever strategies. You really are a decent person but have to fight the shameless enemy on her own terms.

Neo-liberalism is profoundly non-scientific and non-modern. Even if markets were real, we would want to do experiments that didn't ground out in them to find out how to change or maintain them. I'm afraid those of us who know E = MC2 isn't very important in relativity (excellent link the other day) rarely get arsed with economics and politics. They just aren't where we'd start to try and get a reasonable society going, given the chance. And both lack the show and tell we like.

A major ruse in neo-liberalism is to turn arguments about change into fantasies requiring a totally remodelled world-view. I know Kuhn used the term paradigm in this sense, but he'd stuffed that before his second edition and was talking 'disciplinary matrices', which wasn't half as catchy. This ruse disguises the fact that most critique really just asks 'where's your evidence'? In primitive societies, there is more murder than civilisation can match through war, at least before some clown pops off a hydrogen bomb or biological wizardry. Do we leave murder to Mr Market? There are many other examples we don't cede to market throws of the dice.

Neo-liberalism works by shouting loud. It might do us good to work out what our role in the performance of the Naked Emperor is. Drowning out the voice of the child shouting he is naked with clever critique?

cat , March 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

"That donut cost her 27 baht -- 84¢, 5¢ more than the US, in a city with half the cost-of-living of New York! So, what's going on? To her, Krispy Kreme donuts are a luxury good. How does she know that?"

The cost of living has little to nothing to do with if the cost to produce, sell, and profit from a Krispy Kreme donut in Thailand vs NYC. This is either the same terrible critical thinking skills you accuse the neo-liberals of possessing or easily dismissible sophistry.

The demand curve is a good starting point for discussing Economics because it starts the conversation about what really goes into the price of a good and the cost/willingness of its consumption.

I notice you don't present an alternate.

Lambert Strether , March 17, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I feel satisfied to have shown that neo-liberalism is false and lethal. I notice you don't dispute that. I don't see why I have to present an alternative. In any case, I don't do assignments.

allcoppedout , March 17, 2014 at 8:34 pm

Yes you do Lambert. So do I. We just mark our own these days. Important to say critique doesn't need an alternative. Sadly, you have not slain the neo-blobby dragon and it will be round for the rent tomorrow. Somehow we need to trick it into a knife fight when we have pistols. One of the neo-clogger gun batteries is this 'what's your alternative' stuff. We should not go Light Brigade. The truth here is they prevent alternatives and practise sacking raids on any established.

It would be interesting to see speculation in here concerning what life would be like with guaranteed income set at three squares and a roof over one's head. I'm particularly interested in employee relations and what real motivation to work is.

hunkerdown , March 17, 2014 at 4:29 pm

And the sale price of a donut has nothing necessarily to do with the cost of production and sales, so long as there is a sufficiently fashionable level of profit in doing so. Anecdotal evidence still beats a priori assertion.

hunkerdown , March 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

And furthermore, "presenting an alternate" is simply abrogation of responsibility in the form of a romantic prayer, most often deployed by those whose social identity and/or access to power are directly or indirectly threatened by the criticial analysis in progress.

In other words, it's begging the question "because markets".

huxley , March 17, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Price distortions are the result of market inefficiencies which can be contrived in any number of ways to enable rent extraction. You're invited to confess to your own favorite methods.

Ben Johannson , March 17, 2014 at 9:27 pm

The demand curve is a meaningless abstraction. Draw two intersecting lines to reflect your assumptions and you too can teach at Harvard.

readerOfTeaLeaves , March 18, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Bless you for that moment of sanity.

HotFlash , March 17, 2014 at 12:38 pm

That you for this elegantly written essay, Lambert.

Scot Griffin , March 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm

You really only need one rule to sum up neoliberalism: "If you are not at the table, you are on the menu."

I first heard that from a K Street lobbyist who helped write the ObamaCare bill for PhRMA, his employer at the time.

Of course, to have a seat at the table, you need to be economically powerful and politically connected.

impermanence , March 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm

Lambert, economize on your verbiage

People want, 'something for nothing;' and the few are willing to do whatever it takes to this end.

JEHR , March 17, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Lambert, your mind is as sharp as a razor today.

huxley , March 17, 2014 at 4:31 pm

The supply-demand diagram as shown is inaccurate. As such it is an effective demonstration of lying by omission.

To correctly model real-world markets it needs to show how the supply and demand curves are shifted through industry collusion, improper government mandates, and other market distortions and manipulations. It needs to show how prices are increased through market inefficiencies and how economic rent is contrived. It needs to demonstrate the differences between a non-profit utilitarian system, a competitive system that allows for a normal profit, and one that is perverted to enable rent extraction.

The diagram as shown doesn't do any of these things, and a corporate con artist who tries to fob off such a thing on you needs to be taken to school about their ignorance of economics and their propensity for blatant dishonesty and thievery. You certainly don't want such a pirate to get away with using the Blinding With Science fallacy on you when it's fairly straightforward to expose the lying for what it is with just a little standard explanatory material.

casino implosion , March 17, 2014 at 4:42 pm

I've heard the "narcissism of small differences" theory before but I don't think I buy it. The differences are large, but they're the Yankee/Cowboy War differences detailed by Oglesby, not a disagreement over any of the main points of the Washington Consensus..

James Levy , March 17, 2014 at 5:21 pm

The war between the Eastern Establishment and the Cowboy Capitalists largely ended when the factions called a truce in 1980 and put Bush and Reagan on the ticket. Since then the transnational globalizing elite have pretty much buried those old cohorts or coopted them. The Tea Party and Fox News are the last refuges of the Cowboys, along with the nitwits at Commentary. But I think that the biggest players no longer see the United States as the exclusive or even primary stage on which capital is to be accumulated and deployed. America now functions primarily as rent collector and strike breaker.

participant-observer-observed , March 17, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Nice work!

For an even more amusing but pessimistic view, kindly enjoy:

The Idiot's Guide to Smart People: Politics (Ep. 1 of 3)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R72atCX4leY&list=PLrEnWoR732-AOme6RPPtbO_eQzyz6yxto

E Williams , March 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm

Rule 2 reminds me of the title of H Rap Brown's autobiography, written fifty years ago.

"I lived near Louisiana State University, and I could see this big fine school with modern buildings and it was for whites. Then there was Southern University, which was about to fall in and that was for the niggers. And when I compared the two, the message that the white man was trying to get across was obvious Die Nigger Die."

V. Johnson , March 17, 2014 at 7:26 pm

"1. Because Markets", "2. Go Die!".

Perfection. That really sums it up doesn't it? Best explanation of neoliberalism ever. It's almost Haiku.

FYI I found this the other day, same thing from a different angle:

http://globuspallidusxi.blogspot.com/2014/01/market-failure.html

skippy , March 17, 2014 at 9:27 pm

A comment – Jordan P Soreff #3 Be quiet and civil while going about #2 Because Markets. -- Lovely weather we're having. Did you see Miley Cyrus? OMG Dead as a doornail.

skippy bawhahahaha~

different clue , March 18, 2014 at 2:53 am

One might call them Rules for the Masses, not the Classes.
Because markets.
Go die! (because Georgia Guidestones).

[Aug 30, 2018] Corporate Welfare Lives On and On

Aug 30, 2018 | www.theamericanconservative.com

From farm subsidies to the Export-Import Bank, special interest feeding frenzies are still the norm throughout government. By DOUG BANDOWAugust 29, 2018

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Congress created the usual special interest frenzy with its latest iteration of the farm bill. Agricultural subsidies are one of the most important examples of corporate welfare -- money handed out to businesses based on political connections. The legislation suffered a surprise defeat in the House, being viewed as too stingy. But it is certain to return.

Fiscal responsibility is out of fashion. The latest federal budget, drafted by a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress, blew through the loose limits established under Democratic President Barack Obama. The result is trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.

Spending matters. So does the kind of spending. Any amount of corporate welfare is too much.

Business plays a vital role in a free market. People should be able to invest and innovate, taking risks while accepting losses. In real capitalism there are no guaranteed profits. But corporate welfare gives the well-connected protection from many of the normal risks of business.

Business subsidies undermine both capitalism and democracy. Allowing politicians to channel economic resources toward their preferred ends distorts investment and trade. Moreover, turning government into an engine of illicit profit encourages what economists call rent-seeking. Well-organized special interests usually triumph over the broader public and national interest.

Explained Mercatus scholar Tad DeHaven, then a budget analyst at the Cato Institute: "Corporate welfare often subsidizes failing and mismanaged businesses and induces firms to spend more time on lobbying rather than on making better products. Instead of correcting market failures, federal subsidies misallocate resources and introduce government failures into the marketplace."

While corporate welfare suggests money for big business, firm size is irrelevant. There is no substantive difference between, say, the Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank. Both turn capitalism into a rigged game of Monopoly.

Beltway Bandits, Cronyism, and the DOD's Exclusive Contracts The Ultimate Trifecta of Crony Capitalism

Aid comes in many forms. There is spending, typically in grants, loans, and loan guarantees; limits on competitors, such as tariffs and quotas; tax preferences, attached to broader tax bills to benefit individual companies and industries. All help ensure business profits.

Agriculture in particular has spawned a gaggle of sometimes bizarre subsidies. Payments, loans, crop insurance, import quotas, and more underwrite farmers. When these distort the marketplace, further efforts are concocted to address those dislocations. A dairy program created milk surpluses, which in turn encouraged state price fixing that generated massive cheese stockpiles, in turn triggering giveaways to the poor. The federal government killed off cows even as it continued to subsidize milk.

Money also goes to agricultural enterprises through the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, which supports "business development." Through it, observed the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards, Washington subsidizes "utilities, housing developers, and a vast range of other businesses, such as auto shops, tractor companies, clam producers, carwashes, and pharmaceutical firms." The defeated farm bill even included $65 million in special health care subsidies for agricultural associations. Ironically farm households enjoy higher median income and wealth than non-farm households.

The Market Access Program subsidizes agricultural exports. So do the Emerging Markets Program and Foreign Market Development Program. Other programs support general trade and investment. For instance, the Export-Import Bank is known as Boeing's Bank. It provides cheap credit for foreign buyers of American products. Ironically this gives foreign firms, such as airlines that purchase Boeing airplanes, an advantage over U.S. carriers, which must pay full fare. Ex-Im's biggest beneficiary in recent years has been China, especially its state-owned firms.

Contrary to its claims, Ex-Im is not vital for American exports: it backs fewer than 2 percent of them. Around 10 companies benefit from roughly two thirds of the organization's largesse. Ex-Im likes to say it makes money. But the real cost is channeling economic resources to the politically favored.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation provides another carefully camouflaged subsidy. OPIC underwrites U.S. investment -- recipients have ranged from Papa John's Pizza to the Ritz-Carlton -- in potentially unstable nations. If the project pays off, investors win. If not, the rest of us lose. OPIC's real cost includes channeling business investment into protected regions and industries. American businesses hoping to make money in foreign markets should not expect American taxpayers to guarantee those profits.

♦♦♦

At the other end of the commercial spectrum is the Small Business Administration. Smaller firms are a vital part of the American economy and play an important cultural, community, and family role. Yet small businesses are not an underserved market. There is no dearth of, say, liquor stores, bakeries, or antique shops. (Personally, I would love to see an antique shop on every street corner.) SBA is a response to a political opportunity, not an economic need.

Much corporate welfare is disguised in broader terms. The Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration subsidizes "development" in "distressed communities," meaning the agency underwrites business, with dubious results. The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grants do much the same. So does the Appalachian Regional Commission. Cato's Chris Edwards complained that "these are pork-barrel handouts, not proper federal activities." There are some 180 "economic development" programs of one sort or another.

The Rural Utilities Service (once the Rural Electrification Administration) continues, never mind that rural America got electricity decades ago. Today RUS underwrites service in wealthy resort areas and has expanded into broadband internet and even television service. The Federal Communications Commission has several programs to subsidize phone service. The Commerce Department includes the Minority Business Development Agency, which underwrites companies that qualify as minority-owned.

The Bureau of Land Management (mis)manages federal lands, subsidizing use of rangeland by ranchers, for instance. There are federal subsidies to develop, finance, and promote fisheries. There are incentives for airline companies to serve small markets. Foreign Military Financing is presented as a national defense measure, but in most cases the chief beneficiaries are arms makers. There is money to develop high-speed rail and aid shipyards, while the Jones Act imposes huge costs on consumers to preserve expensive U.S. merchantmen.


♦♦♦

There are many housing subsidies, most notably mortgage support and tax preferences, though the latter were trimmed by last year's tax bill. Federal Reserve monetary policy also is a massive subsidy for housing industry enterprises and other asset-based businesses. The Trump administration is pushing subsidies for what the president calls "beautiful" coal power plants.

Federal research and development outlays also offer bountiful benefit to business. The more basic the R&D, the better the argument that the public interest is being served. But even there, warned DeHaven, "the government's basic research can be unproductive and pork-barrel in nature." The closer to commercialization, the more the expenditures are essentially corporate welfare. Alas, Uncle Sam has a hideous record of choosing winners and losers. Most often he chooses the politically influential, which can mean picking losers.

That certainly was the case in the area of "green" energy, for instance. The Obama administration funneled $535 million worth of loan guarantees to Solyndra, which President Barack Obama called an "engine of economic growth." The company filed for bankruptcy in 2011 after spending $1.8 million on its Washington lobbyists. The Washington Post later reported that $3.9 billion in Energy Department grants and financing flowed to 21 companies backed by firms connected to five Obama administration staffers and advisers.

The Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program provides $25 billion in loans for development of cars powered by alternative fuels. Tesla is a major beneficiary. Some players enjoy multiple benefits. DeHaven pointed to Enron, which "received billions of dollars in aid for its projects from the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the U.S. Maritime Administration, and other agencies." When the firm collapsed taxpayers were stuck with several bills.

Although most public attention falls on direct expenditures, trade "protection" is no less a form of corporate welfare. Both tariffs and quotas allow domestic manufacturers to charge more for their products. Unfortunately, the cost of this form of corporate welfare is hidden from the public. Tariffs and other fees alone come to around $40 billion a year. Estimating the cost of quotas and other non-financial restrictions is much harder.

♦♦♦

Tax preferences are another means of corporate welfare. Buried in the tax code, they often are difficult to identify. Measures that affect only one firm or industry, in contrast to those with general economic impact, should be treated as subsidies. Some measures are both, such as the mortgage interest deduction.

The Tax Foundation once calculated that "special tax provisions" cost more than $100 billion annually in lost revenue. Toss in just the mortgage interest deduction and the total jumps dramatically. Although last year's tax bill covered important policy issues, it also incorporated more than a few preferences called "tax extenders."

States and localities also offer subsidies, many through grants, free property, and tax preferences to attract businesses to a particular area. The New York Times pointed to the case of General Motors: "For years, mayors and governors anxious about local jobs had agreed to G.M.'s demands for cash rewards, free buildings, worker training and lucrative tax breaks." Estimates of these costs run between $50 billion and $80 billion.

With the annual federal deficit again approaching $1 trillion, ending corporate welfare alone would not restore fiscal sanity in Washington. But it would be a good down payment. Killing corporate welfare also would help answer the question: does the system operate only for the influential and elite? Ending welfare for profit-making companies should be a starting point for any effort to balance the budget.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Reagan, he is author of The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington .

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nothing changed August 29, 2018 at 3:02 am

"Ending welfare for profit-making companies should be a starting point for any effort to balance the budget. "

At least these are American companies.

What blows my mind is that the top three "foreign aid" parasites under Trump are the same as under Obama. Israel, Afghanistan, and Egypt.

Billions.

So much for "America First" and kicking freeloaders off the taxpayer dole.

Mark Thomason , says: August 29, 2018 at 10:37 am

The Import-Export Bank helps little guys compete with big guys. It provides resources for international payments that otherwise are too expensive to set up for smaller transactions and smaller buyers and sellers.

The attack on the Bank is an attack in support of monopoly power of the biggest companies that can afford to do it for themselves (and only for themselves).

SteveM , says: August 29, 2018 at 11:09 am

It's imperative not to leave out the MIC. No matter much the defense contractors screw up they are always invited back to the FedGov trough to screw up some more. Recent acquisition catastrophes include:

F-22
F-35
Littoral Combat Ship
Zumwalt Class Destroyer
Army Future Combat System

There are scores of others. Do a search on almost any platform the Pentagon sought to acquire and "boondoggle" to see what kind of economic wreckage surfaces.

What gets me is the Generals and Admirals who testify in front of Congress and wail about the "hollowed out force structure" when the original program plans for all weapons systems had plenty of platforms being delivered at a notionally affordable cost.

Begging for more money for programs when those same Brass screwed up the oversight of the ones that are busted reminds me of the kid who kills his parents and then throws himself at the mercy of the court because he's an orphan.

And the Pentagon Brass is really fronting for the defense contractors they want to work for when they get out. It's all a Corporate Welfare scam.

Nobody can hold a candle to the 5-Sided Pleasure Palace when it comes to Corporate Welfare.

TJ Martin , says: August 29, 2018 at 11:59 am

A challenge . Name one solitary major industry in the US that does not receive massive tax payer funded subsidies . Think you know the answer ? All bets are your wrong . So lets take a look at the worst of the worst receiving the most amount of tax payer dollars in what can only be described as corporate welfare ;

1)Energy ( e.g. The Oil / Petrochemical industry along with coal and nuclear )

2) Arms industry ( both military and civilian )

3) Commercial and to a lesser extent residential developers and builders ( hint hint recently increased by the current administration )

4) AgraBusiness

5) Big Pharma

6) Auto Industry

7) Transportation ( e.g. the airlines )

8) Communications ( e.g. satellite and cable tv . land line & cell phone providers , internet providers )

All en total or in part fully supported by a GOP unwilling to provide so much as reasonable healthcare to the general public while spending billions of our dollars on corporate welfare

In conclusion another challenge . In light of the above irrefutable facts .. where is the genuine conservatism so many conservatives make claim to ?

One Guy , says: August 29, 2018 at 1:28 pm

Money for votes, i.e., "the swamp". It was bad enough, before Trump, but now it's worse.

balconesfault , says: August 29, 2018 at 1:34 pm

For instance, the Export-Import Bank is known as Boeing's Bank. It provides cheap credit for foreign buyers of American products. Ironically this gives foreign firms, such as airlines that purchase Boeing airplanes, an advantage over U.S. carriers, which must pay full fare.

Wow – that's a stretch.

I would like to see some real evidence that foreign carriers have been getting significantly lower interest rates on their loans than US carriers when purchasing planes from the Boeing factory.

Sure, there's a theoretical point there. But I've never seen one real world example, and I've not heard any of the domestic carriers complaining.

Meanwhile, thanks to Ex-Im, which costs US taxpayers nothing, Boeing and a lot of other businesses get to provide jobs to American workers.

I still will never understand the right wing hatred for a program that has helped American trade balance far more over the years than any of Trump's tariffs will ever do.

EliteCommInc. , says: August 29, 2018 at 4:03 pm

sign me up

[Aug 28, 2018] A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

Highly recommended!
Notable quotes:
"... Here is an except from "A Colony in a Nation" by Chris Hayes that she recently discussed (Chris Hayes is also the author of Twilight of the Elites ) ..."
"... ...we have built a colony in a nation, not in the classic Marxist sense but in the deep sense we can appreciate as a former colony ourselves: A territory that isn't actually free. A place controlled from outside rather than within. A place where the mechanisms of representation don't work enough to give citizens a sense of ownership over their own government. A place where the law is a tool of control rather than a foundation for prosperity. ..."
"... A Colony in a Nation is not primarily a history lesson, though it does provide a serious, empathetic look at the problems facing the Colony, as well as at the police officers tasked with making rapid decisions in a gun-rich environment. ..."
"... Elsewhere, Hayes examines his own experiences with the law, such as an incident when he was almost caught accidentally smuggling "about thirty dollars' worth of marijuana stuffed into my eyeglass case" into the 2000 Republican National Convention. Hayes got away without so much as a slap on the wrist, protected by luck, circumstances and privilege. ..."
Mar 23, 2017 | economistsview.typepad.com
"Listening to this show by MSNB is so disguising that I lost any respect for it. "

I actually jumped the gun. That's does not mean that it should not be viewed. There are some positive aspects of MSNBC http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show

Here is an except from "A Colony in a Nation" by Chris Hayes that she recently discussed (Chris Hayes is also the author of Twilight of the Elites )

...we have built a colony in a nation, not in the classic Marxist sense but in the deep sense we can appreciate as a former colony ourselves: A territory that isn't actually free. A place controlled from outside rather than within. A place where the mechanisms of representation don't work enough to give citizens a sense of ownership over their own government. A place where the law is a tool of control rather than a foundation for prosperity.

... ... ...

A Colony in a Nation is not primarily a history lesson, though it does provide a serious, empathetic look at the problems facing the Colony, as well as at the police officers tasked with making rapid decisions in a gun-rich environment.

Hayes takes us through his less-than-successful experience putting himself in the latter's shoes by trying out an unusual training tool, a virtually reality simulator: "We're only one scene in, and already the self-righteous liberal pundit has drawn his weapon on an unarmed man holding a cinder block."

Elsewhere, Hayes examines his own experiences with the law, such as an incident when he was almost caught accidentally smuggling "about thirty dollars' worth of marijuana stuffed into my eyeglass case" into the 2000 Republican National Convention. Hayes got away without so much as a slap on the wrist, protected by luck, circumstances and privilege.

For black men living in the Colony, encounters with the police are much more fraught. Racial profiling and minor infractions can lead to "being swept into the vortex of a penal system that captures more than half the black men his age in his neighborhood... an adulthood marked by prison, probation, and dismal job prospects...."

[Nov 04, 2015] Neoliberalism neofashism and feudalism

Mussolini-Style Corporatism, aka Fascism, on the Rise in the US naked capitalism

Uahsenaa, November 3, 2015 at 11:26 am

I want to expand on the point about feudalism, since it's even more apt than the article lets on. It was not "rule by the rich," which implies an oligarchic class whose members are more or less free agents in cahoots with one another. Rather, feudalism is a hierarchical system of distributed administration. A king is nominally in charge or "owns" a kingdom, but he has lords who administer its first primary division, the fiefdom. Lords in turn have vassals, who administer further subdivisions or, in the cases of smaller fiefs, different aspects of governance. Vassals may have their own captains and middle managers, typically knights but also clerks and priests, who in turn employ apprentices/novices/pages who train under them so as to one day move up to middle management. If this is starting to resemble modern corporate structure, then bonus points to you.

This means feudalism found a way to render complicit in a larger system of administration people who had no direct and often no real stake in the produce of its mass mobilization of labor. Anyone in a position of vassalage was dependent upon the largess of his immediate patron/lord/whatever for both his status and nominal wealth. The lowest rungs of the administrative ladder were responsible for keeping the peasants, the pool of labor, in line either through force or through the very same system of dependence upon largess that frames the lord/vassal relationship. Occasionally, the peasants recognize that no one is below them in this pyramid scheme, and so they revolt, but for the most part they were resigned to the status quo, because there seemed to be no locus of power to topple. Sure, you could overthrow the king, but that would do nothing to deter the power of the lords. You could overthrow your local lord, but the king could just install a new one.

Transpose to the modern day. A CEO may resign in disgrace over some scandal, but that does little to challenge the underlings who carried out his orders. You might get your terrible boss fired for his tendency to sexually harass anyone who walks in the door, but what's to stop the regional manager from hiring someone who works you to the bone. Sometimes the peas–err, employees revolt and form a union, but we all know what means have been employed over the years to do away with that.

tl;dr – Feudalism: it's about the structure, not the classes


Lambert Strether, November 3, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Hmm. I don't think a serf can be a vassal. The vassals sound a lot like the 20%. The serfs would be the 80%. I'm guessing class is alive and well.

James Levy, November 3, 2015 at 2:38 pm

You wouldn't be a vassal (that was a very small percentage of the population) but you could have ties of patronage with the people above you, and in fact that was critical to all societies until the Victorians made nepotism a bad word and the ethic of meritocracy (however bastardized today) took shape. If you wanted your physical labor obligation converted into a money payment so you could spend more time and effort on your own holding, or you needed help in tough times, or the 99 year lease on your leasehold was coming due, or you wanted to get your son into the local priory, etc. you needed a friend or friends in higher places. The granting or refusal of favors counted for everything, and kept many on the straight and narrow, actively or passively supporting the system as it was.

Uahsenaa, November 3, 2015 at 2:39 pm

It's not that peasants can be vassals in the overall order so much as they are in the subject position, but without the attendant capacity to then lord it over someone beneath them. Lord/vassal in feudalism are also generic terms to describe members of a fixed relationship of patronage. It's confusing, because those terms are also used for levels of the overall hierarchy.

The true outliers here are the contemporaneous merchants, craftsmen, and freeholders (yeomen) who are necessary for things to run properly but are not satisfactorily accounted for by the overall system of governance, in part because it was land based. Merchants and craftsmen in particular tended not to be tied to any one place, since their services were often needed all over and only for limited periods of time. The primary administrative apparatus for craftsmen were the guilds. Merchants fell into any number of systems of organization and often into none at all, thus, according to the old Marxist genealogy, capitalism overthrows feudalism.

Peasants may have had something like a class consciousness on occasion, but I'm not entirely convinced it's useful to think of them in that way. In Japan, for instance, peasants were of a much higher social status than merchants and craftsmen, technically, yet their lives were substantially more miserable by any modern economic measure.

visitor, November 3, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I think that the article gets it seriously wrong about feudalism - an example of what Yves calls "stripping words of their meaning".

First of all, feudalism was actually an invention of an older, powerful, even more hierarchical organization: the Catholic Church.

The Church realized early on that imposing its ideal of a theocratic State ("city of God") led by the Pope upon the strong-headed barbarian chiefs (Lombards, Franks, Wisigoths and others) that set up various kingdoms in Europe was impossible.

Hence the second best approach, feudalism: a double hierarchy (worldly and spiritual). The populations of Europe were subject to two parallel hierarchical authorities with taxation, judicial and other economic powers (such as the right to determine when and for whom to work).

Second, there was a class of wealthy people which did not quite fit in the feudal hierarchy - in particular, they had no vassals, nor, despite their wealth, any fiefdom: merchants, financiers, the emerging burger class in cities. They were the ones actually lending money to feudal lords.

Third, the problem for underlings was never to overthrow the king (this was a hobby for princely families), and extremely rarely the local lord (which inevitably brought the full brunt of the feudal hierarchy to bear on the seditious populace).

Historically, what cities and rural communities struggled for was to be placed directly under the authority of the king or (Holy Roman Germanic) emperor. This entailed the rights to self-administration, freedom from most egregious taxes and corvées from feudal seigneurs, recognition of local laws and customs, and the possibility to render justice without deferring to local lords.

The king/emperor was happy to receive taxes directly from the city/community without them seeping away in the pockets of members of the inextricable feudal hierarchy; he would from time to time require troops for his host, hence reducing the dependency on troops from his vassal lords; and he would rarely be called to intervene in major legal disputes. Overall, he was way too busy to have time micromanaging those who swore direct allegiance to him - which was exactly what Basque communities, German towns and Swiss peasants wanted.

Therefore, an equivalence between feudalism and the current organizational make-up of society dominated by for-profit entities does not make sense.

Lambert Strether, November 3, 2015 at 4:11 pm

"the problem for underlings was never to overthrow the King"

Not even in the peasant revolts?

visitor, November 3, 2015 at 5:15 pm

If you look at this list, it appears that they were revolts directed against the local nobility (or church) because of its exorbitant taxation, oppressive judiciary, rampaging mercenaries and incompetent leadership in war against foreign invasions.

The French Jacquerie took place when there was no king - he had been taken prisoner by the English and the populace blamed the nobility for the military defeats and the massive tax increases that ensued.

During the Spanish Guerra de los Remensas, the revolted peasants actually appealed to the king and he in turn allied with them to fight the nobles.

During the Budai Nagy Antal revolt, the peasants actually asked the Hungarian king to arbitrate.

In other cases, even when the king/emperor/sultan ultimately intervened to squash the revolt, the insurrection was directed against some local elite.

Peasants revolts in 16th century Scandinavia were against the king's rule, but they were linked to reformation and took place when feudalism was on the wane and the evolution towards a centralized monarchical state well advanced.

Apparently, only the John and William Merfold's revolt explicitly called for the overthrow of the English king.

Jim Haygood, November 3, 2015 at 4:51 pm

'The populations of Europe were subject to two parallel hierarchical authorities with taxation, judicial and other economic powers (such as the right to determine when and for whom to work).'

Just as Americans are subject to two parallel hierarchical authorities with taxation and judicial powers, the states and the fedgov.

Before 1914, federal criminal laws were few, and direct federal income taxation of individuals was nonexistent. Today one needs federal authorization (E-verify) to get a job.

Now that the Fifth Amendment prohibition on double jeopardy has been interpreted away, notorious defendants face both federal and state prosecution. Thus the reason why America has the world's largest Gulag, with its slam-dunk conviction machine.


Uahsenaa, November 3, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Except, first off, there were non-Christian societies that made use of the system of warrior vassalage, and the manorial system that undergirded feudal distribution of land and resources, as least as far as Bloch is concerned, is a fairly clear outgrowth of the Roman villa system of the late empire.

Insofar as the Late Roman empire was nominally–very nominally–Christian, I suppose your point stands, but according to Bloch, the earliest manorial structures were the result of the dissolution of the larger, older empire into smaller pieces, many of which were beyond meaningful administrative control by Rome itself. Second, bishoprics and monasteries, the primary land holdings of the clergy, were of the same order as manors, so they fit within the overall feudal system, not parallel to it.

If Bloch is not right about this, I'm open to reading other sources, but that's what my understanding was based on. Moreover, the basic system of patronage and fealty that made the manor economy function certainly seems to have survived the historical phenomenon we call feudalism, and that parallel was what I was trying to draw attention to. Lord/vassal relationships are fundamentally contractual, not just quid pro quo but organized around favors and reputation, and maybe the analogy is a bit strained, but it does point to the ways in which modern white collar work especially is about more than fixed pay for a fixed sum of labor output.

Thure Meyer, November 4, 2015 at 7:30 am

Isn't this rather off-topic?

This is not a discussion about the true and correct history of European feudalism or whether or not it applies to the situation at hand, but a dialogue about Global fascism and how it expresses itself in this Nation.

HarrySnapperOrgans, November 4, 2015 at 4:46 am

I suspect that the similarity of medeavil fuedalism with the relationship between a large modern corporation and its employees is not properly appreciated because the latter, unlike the former, does not necessarily include direct control over living conditions (housing, land, rent), even though in the end there may be a similar degree of effective servitude (lack of mobility and alternatives, and so effective entrapment at low wages) .

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