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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 demonstrates how dangerous this man 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 www.txedrev.org

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?

Conclusion

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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Old News ;-)

[Feb 21, 2021] 'Freedom' under neo-liberal capitalism is all of the negative type.

Feb 21, 2021 | www.unz.com

Mulga Mumblebrain , says: February 16, 2021 at 1:13 am GMT • 4.2 days ago

@Flying Dutchman

'Freedom' under neo-liberal capitalism is all of the negative type. You are free to be as greedy and arrogant as you like, as rich, ie as big a thief, as you like, and as poor as you like. You are to ignore the liberal injunction that your freedom must not interfere with that of others, and screw as many patsies as you desire. You are 'free' to vote for two or so near identical parties, then have no 'freedom' but that which your money buys you. 'Freedom' is the biggest lie of all Big Lies.

[May 23, 2020] Coronavirus had shown Brezhnev socialism and the US neoliberalism are never as far apart as people imagined

Highly recommended!
May 23, 2020 | discussion.theguardian.com

Comment edited for clarity

Bolsheviks put ideology above and before the people needs; Neoliberals put capital above people. Neoliberals are the next-worst thing after Boslheviks (although nobody can match Bolsheviks as for excesses including Stalin terror) .

That's why both now in the USA and in the USSR before the dissolution we have a lot of "death of despair" That said, why would anybody trust neolibral pols ?

twiglette , 11 Apr 2019 05:13

Coronavirus had shown Brezhnev socialism and the US neoliberalism were never as far apart as people imagined. Two sides of a coin. A theological dispute.

[May 23, 2020] Who are serfs

Money quote: ""Public-service workers are now subjected to a panoptical regime of monitoring and assessment, using the benchmarks von Mises rightly warned were inapplicable and absurd." -- that's definition of a serf -- a neoliberal serf
I feel a lot of people just use the term neoliberalism as a term of a specific abuse of labor via debt slavery. .
May 23, 2020 | discussion.theguardian.com

TenTribesofTexas , 11 Apr 2019 01:15

2 simple points that epitomize neo liberalism.

1. Hayek's book 'The Road to Serfdom' uses an erroneous metaphor. He argues that if we allow gov regulation, services and spending to continue then we will end up serfs. However, serfs are basically the indentured or slave labourers of private citizens and landowners not of the state. Only in a system of private capital can there be serfs. Neo liberalism creates serfs not a public system.

2. According to Hayek all regulation on business should be eliminated and only labour should be regulated to make it cheap and contain it so that private investors can have their returns guaranteed. Hence the purpose of the state is to pass laws to suppress workers.

These two things illustrate neo-liberalism. Deception and repression of labour.

marshwren , 10 Apr 2019 22:29
As a matter of semantics, neo-liberalism delivered on the promise of freedom...for capitalists to be free of ethical accountability, social responsibility, and government regulation and taxes. And people can't understand why i'm a socialist.

[May 14, 2020] Libertarians who are extraordinarily sensitive to the least legal limitation on negative freedom are usually completely immune to the idea that structural features of capitalist society are coercive and freedom-limiting

May 14, 2020 | crookedtimber.org

Anarcho 05.06.20 at 3:18 pm 5

"Libertarians who are extraordinarily sensitive to the least legal limitation on negative freedom are usually completely immune to the idea that structural features of capitalist society are coercive and freedom-limiting. "

I think you will discover that those who coined the term libertarian (libertarie) which the propertarians knowning stole in the 1950s are well aware of those structural features -- as Proudhon argued, property is both theft and despotism.:

http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/160-years-libertarian

Please don't let these defenders of private tyranny continue their abuse of the good left-wing word libertarian.

[May 11, 2020] What is the neoliberal freedom exactly? Freedom to be replaced by a machine, without any forward thinking plan by society? Freedom to be hungry? Freedom to rampage and kill others?

May 11, 2020 | www.unz.com

Ilya G Poimandres , says: Show Comment May 9, 2020 at 6:01 am GMT

@onebornfree Anti what freedom exactly? Freedom to be replaced by a machine, without any forward thinking plan by society? Freedom to be hungry? Freedom to rampage and kill others?

This American freedom is an ideology on par with the nihilistic ideology of ISIS. It is an embrace of materialism through Epicurianism. Why exactly is this freedom to crave endlessly, superior to the freedom the CCP aims for its people – freedom from destitution?

You say they are enslaved, but they would say you are enslaved. You say that society enslave their individuality, they would say your individualism enslaved your society.

Any chance of finding a balanced middle ground? Cause the Chinese are closer to it atm.

[May 07, 2020] Neoliberal society does not fare well in any large scale epidemic: The neoliberal dogma of "Freedom for the nihilistic narcissistic ego individual over everything else" lead to anto-social behaviour -- many people today willingly prefer to rake risk and to go to concerts and beer gardens than to deny themselves those small joys in favor of their compatriots

May 07, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

DontBelieveEitherPr. , May 6 2020 19:21 utc | 2

Well, you were indeed right. And your reporting better than most if not all MSM articles written by other laymen. And all without any professional experience. Just by trusting in scientific methods, data and knowledge, instead of making a conspiracy out of thin air.
In those times, that is an amazing achievement.

But when i hear how few people are tested, when i hear of multiple deaths in my circle of people, and see the society unable to unite against such a threat, i dont have much hope for how this will go on.
The last 4 sentences say everything about our western societies, including us Germans.
The only profiteers are the rich, toilet paper and noodle merchants, and politicians (who now race each other in opening up BEER GARDENS and CONCERTS with 100 people).


Many people today willingly prefer to go to concerts and beer gardens than to deny themselves those small joys in favor of their compatriots.
Our society is doom. The neoliberal dogma of "Freedom for the nihilistic narcissistic ego individual over everything else" destroyed what was left of it.

bevin , May 6 2020 19:21 utc | 3

Here Lee, look at this series of reports: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/05/06/nurs-m06.html

"..At one New York City nursing home, the Isabella Geriatric Center in Manhattan's Washington Heights, nearly 100 of its 705 residents have died..."

"..In Medfield, Massachusetts, north of Boston, COVID-19 has killed 54 residents over the past four weeks at the Courtyard Nursing Care Center. An additional 117 residents and 42 employees have tested positive for the virus..."

" A shocking 84 residents have died at the facility since the virus outbreak. Eighty-one employees have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"... deaths at the Soldiers' Home were initially hidden from both the mayor of Holyoke and local health officials, who only became aware of the developing situation when employees at the facility reached out to them. Staff said management at the facility refused to provide them with PPE and instructed them to crowd patients together from multiple wards into a single ward as a solution to staffing shortages due to infections..."

"..A particularly gruesome discovery took place in mid-April when police found 17 corpses piled up at the Subacute and Rehabilitation Center in Andover, New Jersey. The bodies were stacked in a small morgue designed to hold a maximum of four bodies. The more than 2,000 deaths of staff and residents in New Jersey's long-term facilities account for about 40 percent of the state's coronavirus-related deaths."

There's more much more. And not just from the United States either.

[Apr 15, 2020] While personal freedom is largely illusory, it seems to me that one has a contractual right to expect good parents, good teachers, good bosses and so forth. That's a legalistic constitutional right to exchange the individual's right to violence in exchange for protection

Apr 15, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

Walter , Apr 15 2020 12:35 utc | 177

Personal freedom is largely illusory. One spends most of ones life under the control of others, parents, teachers, bosses, officers, cops, judges, jailers, or sleeping. I wonder if it's a "right" at all.

However, it seems to me that one has a contractual right to expect good parents, good teachers, good bosses and so forth. That's a legalistic constitutional right to exchange the individual's right to violence in exchange for protection. A contact. Individuals sometimes retain a fraction...the right to self-defense...but this is very limited, and dicey too.

And - especially - one, everyone, does have a natural right to demand Justice, fairness, and to be left alone. This is a Natural Right. It comes from the outside, from God, if you like. Dogs and horses, for example express themselves, and kick and bite and krap on your desk, if they're seriously mislead, (mistreated) Man also has the natural right.

So, Personal freedom seems to be an imprecise term, and seems to have at least two, probably several, manifestations.

[Apr 15, 2020] Personal freedom is not an unlimited right. Diana Johnstone has given a convincing argument for its limits. One's freedom and rights end where they infringe on the freedom and rights of others

Apr 15, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

Personal freedom is not an unlimited right. Diana Johnstone has given a convincing argument for its limits. One's freedom and rights end where they infringe on the freedom and rights of others:

[V]irtually all key aspects of any civilized society go contrary to the absolutism of individual rights. Every civilized society has some sort of legal system, some basic rules that everyone is expected to follow. Most civilized societies have a public education and (except for the United States) a public health insurance system designed to benefit the whole population. These elements of civilization include constraints on individual freedom.

The benefits to each individual of living in a civilized society make these constraints acceptable to just about everybody. The health of the individual depends on the health of the community, which is why everyone in most Western countries accepts a single payer health insurance system. The only exception is the United States, where the egocentricities of Ayn Rand are widely read as serious thought.

It is without doubt that masks are helpful to limit the spreading of the epidemic. An infected person begins to spread viruses by breathing, talking, singing or coughing on day 2 after the infection. Only on day 5 or 6 will the symptoms of the disease set in. Some people will never feel symptoms but can still infect others usually up to day 10 after the infection.

Masks stop the viruses one sheds from reaching other persons. They do this effectively.

Posted by b on April 14, 2020 at 18:12 UTC | Permalink

[Mar 10, 2020] Neoliberalism the ideology at the root of all our problems by George Monbiot

Highly recommended!
Under neoliberalism inequality is recast as virtuous. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve: Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations and redefines citizens as consumers
Notable quotes:
"... Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you'll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is? ..."
"... Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness , the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump . ..."
"... Inequality is recast as virtuous. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve. ..."
"... Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that "the market" delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. ..."
"... We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances. ..."
"... Never mind structural unemployment: if you don't have a job it's because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you're feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it's your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers. ..."
"... Among the results, as Paul Verhaeghe documents in his book What About Me? are epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia. ..."
"... It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice should have been promoted with the slogan 'there is no alternative' ..."
"... 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. ..."
"... Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one ..."
"... Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one. ..."
"... When you pay an inflated price for a train ticket, only part of the fare compensates the operators for the money they spend on fuel, wages, rolling stock and other outlays. The rest reflects the fact that they have you over a barrel . ..."
"... Those who own and run the UK's privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much. In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through firesales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all landline and mobile phone services and soon became the world's richest man. ..."
"... Financialisation, as Andrew Sayer notes in Why We Can't Afford the Rich , has had a similar impact. "Like rent," he argues, "interest is ... unearned income that accrues without any effort". ..."
"... Chris Hedges remarks that "fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the 'losers' who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment". When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation . To the admirers of Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant. ..."
"... Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity. Or rather, a cluster of anonymities. ..."
"... The invisible doctrine of the invisible hand is promoted by invisible backers. Slowly, very slowly, we have begun to discover the names of a few of them. We find that the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has argued forcefully in the media against the further regulation of the tobacco industry, has been secretly funded by British American Tobacco since 1963. We discover that Charles and David Koch , two of the richest men in the world, founded the institute that set up the Tea Party movement . We find that Charles Koch, in establishing one of his thinktanks, noted that "in order to avoid undesirable criticism, how the organisation is controlled and directed should not be widely advertised". ..."
"... The anonymity of neoliberalism is fiercely guarded. ..."
"... Neoliberalism's triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was ... nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years. ..."
"... What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it's not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century. ..."
Apr 16, 2016 | www.theguardian.com

Financial meltdown, environmental disaster and even the rise of Donald Trump – neoliberalism has played its part in them all. Why has the left failed to come up with an alternative? @GeorgeMonbiot

Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you'll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?

Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness , the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump . But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

Inequality is recast as virtuous. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin's theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that "the market" delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don't have a job it's because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you're feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it's your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

See also Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us by Paul Verhaeghe, Sep 24, 2014

Among the results, as Paul Verhaeghe documents in his book What About Me? are epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia. Perhaps it's unsurprising that Britain, in which neoliberal ideology has been most rigorously applied, is the loneliness capital of Europe . We are all neoliberals now.

***

The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and the gradual development of Britain's welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

In The Road to Serfdom , published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises's book Bureaucracy , The Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.

With their help, he began to create what Daniel Stedman Jones describes in Masters of the Universe as "a kind of neoliberal international": a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists. The movement's rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute , the Heritage Foundation , the Cato Institute , the Institute of Economic Affairs , the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute . They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.

As it evolved, neoliberalism became more strident. Hayek's view that governments should regulate competition to prevent monopolies from forming gave way – among American apostles such as Milton Friedman – to the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency.

Something else happened during this transition: the movement lost its name. In 1951, Friedman was happy to describe himself as a neoliberal . But soon after that, the term began to disappear. Stranger still, even as the ideology became crisper and the movement more coherent, the lost name was not replaced by any common alternative.

At first, despite its lavish funding, neoliberalism remained at the margins. The postwar consensus was almost universal: John Maynard Keynes 's economic prescriptions were widely applied, full employment and the relief of poverty were common goals in the US and much of western Europe, top rates of tax were high and governments sought social outcomes without embarrassment, developing new public services and safety nets.

But in the 1970s, when Keynesian policies began to fall apart and economic crises struck on both sides of the Atlantic, neoliberal ideas began to enter the mainstream. As Friedman remarked, "when the time came that you had to change ... there was an alternative ready there to be picked up". With the help of sympathetic journalists and political advisers, elements of neoliberalism, especially its prescriptions for monetary policy, were adopted by Jimmy Carter's administration in the US and Jim Callaghan's government in Britain.

It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice should have been promoted with the slogan 'there is no alternative'

After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Most remarkable was its adoption among parties that once belonged to the left: Labour and the Democrats, for example. As Stedman Jones notes, "it is hard to think of another utopia to have been as fully realised."

***

It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan "there is no alternative". But, as Hayek remarked on a visit to Pinochet's Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – "my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism". 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.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Naomi Klein documented that neoliberals advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted. Photograph: Anya Chibis/The Guardian

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.

Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one.

Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income. When you pay an inflated price for a train ticket, only part of the fare compensates the operators for the money they spend on fuel, wages, rolling stock and other outlays. The rest reflects the fact that they have you over a barrel .

In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all phone services and soon became the world's richest man. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters

Those who own and run the UK's privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much. In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through firesales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all landline and mobile phone services and soon became the world's richest man.

Financialisation, as Andrew Sayer notes in Why We Can't Afford the Rich , has had a similar impact. "Like rent," he argues, "interest is ... unearned income that accrues without any effort". As the poor become poorer and the rich become richer, the rich acquire increasing control over another crucial asset: money. Interest payments, overwhelmingly, are a transfer of money from the poor to the rich. As property prices and the withdrawal of state funding load people with debt (think of the switch from student grants to student loans), the banks and their executives clean up.

Sayer argues that the past four decades have been characterised by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income.

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land , Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.

The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.

Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.

Chris Hedges remarks that "fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the 'losers' who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment". When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation . To the admirers of Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant.

Judt explained that when the thick mesh of interactions between people and the state has been reduced to nothing but authority and obedience, the only remaining force that binds us is state power. The totalitarianism Hayek feared is more likely to emerge when governments, having lost the moral authority that arises from the delivery of public services, are reduced to "cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them".

***

Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity. Or rather, a cluster of anonymities.

The invisible doctrine of the invisible hand is promoted by invisible backers. Slowly, very slowly, we have begun to discover the names of a few of them. We find that the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has argued forcefully in the media against the further regulation of the tobacco industry, has been secretly funded by British American Tobacco since 1963. We discover that Charles and David Koch , two of the richest men in the world, founded the institute that set up the Tea Party movement . We find that Charles Koch, in establishing one of his thinktanks, noted that "in order to avoid undesirable criticism, how the organisation is controlled and directed should not be widely advertised".

The nouveau riche were once disparaged by those who had inherited their money. Today, the relationship has been reversed

The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. "The market" sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What "the market wants" tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. "Investment", as Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities "camouflages the sources of wealth", leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation.

A century ago, the nouveau riche were disparaged by those who had inherited their money. Entrepreneurs sought social acceptance by passing themselves off as rentiers. Today, the relationship has been reversed: the rentiers and inheritors style themselves entre preneurs. They claim to have earned their unearned income.

These anonymities and confusions mesh with the namelessness and placelessness of modern capitalism: the franchise model which ensures that workers do not know for whom they toil ; the companies registered through a network of offshore secrecy regimes so complex that even the police cannot discover the beneficial owners ; the tax arrangements that bamboozle governments; the financial products no one understands.

The anonymity of neoliberalism is fiercely guarded. Those who are influenced by Hayek, Mises and Friedman tend to reject the term, maintaining – with some justice – that it is used today only pejoratively . But they offer us no substitute. Some describe themselves as classical liberals or libertarians, but these descriptions are both misleading and curiously self-effacing, as they suggest that there is nothing novel about The Road to Serfdom , Bureaucracy or Friedman's classic work, Capitalism and Freedom .

***

For all that, there is something admirable about the neoliberal project, at least in its early stages. It was a distinctive, innovative philosophy promoted by a coherent network of thinkers and activists with a clear plan of action. It was patient and persistent. The Road to Serfdom became the path to power.

Neoliberalism, Locke and the Green party | Letters Read more

Neoliberalism's triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was ... nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.

Every invocation of Lord Keynes is an admission of failure. To propose Keynesian solutions to the crises of the 21st century is to ignore three obvious problems. It is hard to mobilise people around old ideas; the flaws exposed in the 70s have not gone away; and, most importantly, they have nothing to say about our gravest predicament: the environmental crisis. Keynesianism works by stimulating consumer demand to promote economic growth. Consumer demand and economic growth are the motors of environmental destruction.

What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it's not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.

George Monbiot's How Did We Get into This Mess? is published this month by Verso. To order a copy for £12.99 (RRP £16.99) ) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Topics Economics

[Mar 03, 2020] "Predatory capitalism", which clearly describes what neoliberalism is.

Highly recommended!
Mar 03, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

chu teh , Mar 4 2020 0:50 utc | 80

Tonymike | Mar 3 2020 18:08 utc | 26

re ... Your house foreclosed upon by shady bank: naked capitalism, .0001% paid on interest savings: naked capitalism, poor wages: naked capitalism, dangerous workplace: naked capitalism, etc. ...

"naked capitalism" is not a clear description. Consider using "predatory capitalism", which clearly describes what it is.

Here's the Wiki dictionary definition:

Predatory--

1. relating to or denoting an animal or animals preying naturally on others.
synonyms: predacious, carnivorous, hunting, raptorial, ravening;
Example: "predatory birds".

2. seeking to exploit or oppress others.
synonyms: exploitative, wolfish, rapacious, greedy, acquisitive, avaricious
Example: "I could see a predatory gleam in his eyes"

Note where the word comes from:
The Latin "praedator", in English meaning "plunderer".

And "plunderer" helps the reader understand and perhaps recognize what is happening.

Every plunderer understands.

[Mar 02, 2020] Under the rule of a repressive [neoliberal] oligarchy, freedom can be made into a powerful instrument of domination

Mar 02, 2020 | www.truthdig.com

In "One-Dimensional Man , " Marcuse revealed the fundamental truth of modern Western capitalism: "Under the rule of a repressive whole, liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination . Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves. Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear -- that is, if they sustain alienation." It does not matter at all whether millions of people recognize their alienation, often blissfully unaware that their "needs" are not their own but merely produced through their superficially pleasant submission. The corporate state continues largely unchallenged.

[Feb 01, 2020] Freedom in the neo-liberal lexicon means freedom of the strong to predate on the weak. Free Trade is a particular example of this.

Feb 01, 2020 | www.moonofalabama.org

Tim Glover , Jan 31 2020 19:07 utc | 9

Freedom in the neo-liberal lexicon means freedom of the strong to predate on the weak. Free Trade is a particular example of this. A rational person must expect the UK to be brutally savaged in dealing with the EU, US and China.

@1, It is true that at present not having a Mediterranean coast is an advantage. But an optimist might hope that the defeat of the US in Eurasia will bring new peace along the Belt and Road, and Africa and the ME will see the greatest boom.

[Dec 08, 2019] 'Free World'? What exactly does that mean? What does 'Freedom' mean? I 'freely' admit I simply have no idea what people mean when they urgently bleat words like that at me.

Dec 08, 2019 | www.moonofalabama.org

Ant. , Dec 5 2019 18:32 utc | 39

In Uncle Sam Land, "freedom" has two meanings. Rich people are free to do as they like. The rest of us are free to live under a bridge and starve.

We do have one right: The Right To Obey.

The whole society is organized around obedience, and the purpose of public education is to make sure every one obeys. Modern schools are more accurately called "day prisons", with all the cameras, metal detectors, armed police, isolation rooms, etc. I wonder how many people realize that "lockdown" is straight out of the criminal prison system, and is now a regular occurrence for little kids.

Ant. , Dec 5 2019 18:32 utc | 39

@33 vk

'Free World'? What exactly does that mean? What does 'Freedom' mean? I 'freely' admit I simply have no idea what people mean when they urgently bleat words like that at me.

To me, freedom applies to an action. You are free to do this, or you are free to do that. Which is, of course, actions that are constrained or allowed by various laws passed by local, state, federal and/or international entities. I would suppose that the amount of freedom you have depends on haw many laws have been passed in your own country to criminalize various activities.

Has anyone done such an analysis, to define which countries have limited their citizens behaviour? Simplistically, which countries have written the most laws?

I'll be willing to bet they are the 'democracies' that are most bellicose about protecting 'freedoms'. Let's face facts, politicians just love to keep passing laws, otherwise they have no reason to exist. I unreasonably think there should be another superior law, that any government should only be able to have so many laws. If they want to have yet another one, take some other law away. Otherwise 'freedoms' are just being chipped away at, constantly.

'Freedom', as a thing unto and onto itself, seems a completely meaningless concept. I keep wondering why politicians aren't asked what they are talking about when they roar about 'freedom' as a general term.

Trailer Trash , Dec 5 2019 19:51 utc | 53
>What does 'Freedom' mean? >

[Nov 26, 2019] The Illiberal World Order

Notable quotes:
"... Despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary, such people now enthusiastically whitewash the decades preceding Trump to turn it into a paragon of human liberty, justice and economic wonder. You don't have to look deep to understand that resistance liberals are now actually conservatives, brimming with nostalgia for the days before significant numbers of people became wise to what's been happening all along. ..."
"... Lying to yourself about history is one of the most dangerous things you can do. If you can't accept where we've been, and that Trump's election is a symptom of decades of rot as opposed to year zero of a dangerous new world, you'll never come to any useful conclusions ..."
"... Irrespective of what you think of Bernie Sanders and his policies, you can at least appreciate the fact his supporters focus on policy and real issues ..."
"... An illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, hybrid regime or guided democracy, is a governing system in which although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties; thus it is not an "open society". There are many countries "that are categorized as neither 'free' nor 'not free', but as 'probably free', falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes". This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but those in power ignore its liberties, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties does not exist. ..."
Nov 26, 2019 | www.zerohedge.com

The Illiberal World Order by Tyler Durden Mon, 11/25/2019 - 21:45 0 SHARES

Authored by Michael Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

From a big picture perspective, the largest rift in American politics is between those willing to admit reality and those clinging to a dishonest perception of a past that never actually existed. Ironically, those who most frequently use "post-truth" to describe our current era tend to be those with the most distorted view of what was really happening during the Clinton/Bush/Obama reign.

Despite massive amounts of evidence to the contrary, such people now enthusiastically whitewash the decades preceding Trump to turn it into a paragon of human liberty, justice and economic wonder. You don't have to look deep to understand that resistance liberals are now actually conservatives, brimming with nostalgia for the days before significant numbers of people became wise to what's been happening all along.

They want to forget about the bipartisan coverup of Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11, all the wars based on lies, and the indisputable imperial crimes disclosed by Wikileaks, Snowden and others. They want to pretend Wall Street crooks weren't bailed out and made even more powerful by the Bush/Obama tag team, despite ostensible ideological differences between the two. They want to forget Epstein Didn't Kill Himself.

Lying to yourself about history is one of the most dangerous things you can do. If you can't accept where we've been, and that Trump's election is a symptom of decades of rot as opposed to year zero of a dangerous new world, you'll never come to any useful conclusions. As such, the most meaningful fracture in American society today is between those who've accepted that we've been lied to for a very long time, and those who think everything was perfectly fine before Trump. There's no real room for a productive discussion between such groups because one of them just wants to get rid of orange man, while the other is focused on what's to come. One side actually believes a liberal world order existed in the recent past, while the other fundamentally recognizes this was mostly propaganda based on myth.

Irrespective of what you think of Bernie Sanders and his policies, you can at least appreciate the fact his supporters focus on policy and real issues. In contrast, resistance liberals just desperately scramble to put up whoever they think can take us back to a make-believe world of the recent past. This distinction is actually everything. It's the difference between people who've at least rejected the status quo and those who want to rewind history and perform a do-over of the past forty years.

A meaningful understanding that unites populists across the ideological spectrum is the basic acceptance that the status quo is pernicious and unsalvageable, while the status quo-promoting opposition focuses on Trump the man while conveniently ignoring the worst of his policies because they're essentially just a continuation of Bush/Clinton/Obama. It's the most shortsighted and destructive response to Trump imaginable. It's also why the Trump-era alliance of corporate, imperialist Democrats and rightwing Bush-era neoconservatives makes perfect sense, as twisted and deranged as it might seem at first. With some minor distinctions, these people share nostalgia for the same thing.

This sort of political environment is extremely unhealthy because it places an intentional and enormous pressure on everyone to choose between dedicating every fiber of your being to removing Trump at all costs or supporting him. This anti-intellectualism promotes an ends justifies the means attitude on all sides. In other words, it turns more and more people into rhinoceroses.

Eugène Ionesco's masterpiece, Rhinoceros, is about a central European town where the citizens turn, one by one, into rhinoceroses. Once changed, they do what rhinoceroses do, which is rampage through the town, destroying everything in their path. People are a little puzzled at first, what with their fellow citizens just turning into rampaging rhinos out of the blue, but even that slight puzzlement fades quickly enough. Soon it's just the New Normal. Soon it's just the way things are a good thing, even. Only one man resists the siren call of rhinocerosness, and that choice brings nothing but pain and existential doubt, as he is utterly profoundly alone.

– Ben Hunt, The Long Now, Pt. 2 – Make, Protect, Teach

A political environment where you're pressured to choose between some ridiculous binary of "we must remove Trump at all costs" or go gung-ho MAGA, is a rhinoceros generating machine. The only thing that happens when you channel your inner rhinoceros to defeat rhinoceroses, is you get more rhinoceroses. And that's exactly what's happening.

The truth of the matter is the U.S. is an illiberal democracy in practice, despite various myths to the contrary.

An illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, hybrid regime or guided democracy, is a governing system in which although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties; thus it is not an "open society". There are many countries "that are categorized as neither 'free' nor 'not free', but as 'probably free', falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes". This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but those in power ignore its liberties, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties does not exist.

It's not a new thing by any means, but it's getting worse by the day. Though many of us remain in denial, the American response to various crises throughout the 21st century was completely illiberal. As devastating as they were, the attacks of September 11, 2001 did limited damage compared to the destruction caused by our insane response to them. Similarly, any direct damage caused by the election and policies of Donald Trump pales in comparison to the damage being done by the intelligence agency-led "resistance" to him.

So are we all rhinoceroses now?

We don't have to be. Turning into a rhinoceros happens easily if you're unaware of what's happening and not grounded in principles, but ultimately it is a choice. The decision to discard ethics and embrace dishonesty in order to achieve political ends is always a choice. As such, the most daunting challenge we face now and in the chaotic years ahead is to become better as others become worse. A new world is undoubtably on the horizon, but we don't yet know what sort of world it'll be. It's either going to be a major improvement, or it'll go the other way, but one thing's for certain -- it can't stay the way it is much longer.

If we embrace an ends justifies the means philosophy, it's going to be game over for a generation. The moment you accept this tactic is the moment you stoop down to the level of your adversaries and become just like them. It then becomes a free-for-all for tyrants where everything is suddenly on the table and no deed is beyond the pale. It's happened many times before and it can happen again. It's what happens when everyone turns into rhinoceroses.

* * *

If you enjoyed this, I suggest you check out the following 2017 posts. It's never been more important to stay conscious and maintain a strong ethical framework.

Do Ends Justify the Means?

[Nov 25, 2019] What the word freedom means?

Nov 25, 2019 | www.moonofalabama.org

jayc , Nov 22 2019 21:14 utc | 19

In the past, I thought that Hong Kong was dominated by a narrow rich oligarchy with rules that kept the input from hoi-polloi to the minimum, which meant low taxes for business and the rich etc. From the point of view of Cato Institute it is the definition of paradise, but the life in paradise may have its discontent.

Compare with Chile that has exemplary record of "property rights" since Pinochet era with a constitution that makes it very hard to change, and yet, the locals are not happy and neither Russian nor Bolivarian agitators were identfied.

Or Colombia, another shiny bastion of democracy, allowing very wide spectrum of relationship between bosses and workers (assassinations of uppity organizers included). I would be curious if systematic and widespread murder in the defense of freedom merits downgrading in Cato Institute world freedom index.

AK74 , Nov 23 2019 6:48 utc | 61

Here's a handy piece of advice for non-American nations around the world: Whenever some American starts running its mouth about crusading for Freedom, Democracy, Human Rights, or similar propaganda slogans, get ready to defend your nation. These slogans are merely the American version of the White Man's Burden and Western Civilizing Mission.

They are a clear and present threat that the American predator is slouching towards you.

chu teh , Nov 23 2019 2:26 utc | 46

Trump's is trying to teach us something?

"I stand with freedom,..."

A working definition of "Freedom" is "absence of".

So, from what does he want to be absent of? He does not say. We should ask him.

Freedom from starvation? Ignorance? Health? Money? Jobs? Contaminated drinking water?..Who knows ? !

So Trump is coaching us deplorables that freedom is literally nonsense unless we say "freedom from ____ ". [we have to fill in the blank space to make any sense!]

I am sure he knows that. Doesn't he? I am sure you, dear reader,knows it, too.

karlof1 , Nov 23 2019 2:43 utc | 47
chu teh @44--

Trump wants freedom from taxation. And he wants to be free to oppress others. Also, see Hudson's definition of the term in his J is for Junk Economics as Trump was totally schooled in neoliberal economics.

Piotr Berman , Nov 23 2019 4:44 utc | 54
"Hong Kong is a repressive police state" says Joshua Wong, and yet it is consistently near the top of the list in the Cato Institute world freedom index.

[Nov 09, 2019] Under neoliberalism Democracy is about equality of money ? Under neoliberalism the rule of law means maintianing social position of upper classes vs majority of population, which is moral imbecility. Unjust laws do not make for justice.

Nov 09, 2019 | crookedtimber.org

steven t johnson 11.08.19 at 4:36 pm 77

More directly on topic, the difficulties in defining neoliberalism usefully I think come from 1) an incoherent political spectrum centered on overly specific policies which will vary according to time and place and the vicissitudes of world economy and war, rather than on class 2) the lack of a sound analysis of what bourgeois democracy is 3) an economic analysis that omits economic history, leaving most of the discussion decontextualized.

1) Basically, the liberal state, the neoliberal state and a host of other variants share the view of freedom as the right to buy what you can afford, to sell what you own and to do whatever you want in the meantime. It is a vision centered on property as the essence of humanity. See Benjamin Constant. And this is true even for people who try to imagine a non-market sphere for other aspects of life. The most common form today is perhaps the notion of the family as a private haven, the center of civil (as opposed to political) society. But nobody escapes reality, this is purely ideological, an illusionary escape from class society. The more the family is a private haven, the more it is a private prison.

The problem with placing neoliberalism on a spectrum is that practically everyone whose opinion would be accepted as legitimate for expression, fundamentally shares this vision. Disagreements about the inevitable lapses from the ideal are inevitable, but will change. In the earliest days of capitalism, expropriating Church lands was liberalism, even if the Wars of Religion, the Dutch revolution and the English reformation are conveniently omitted as essential. A continental power like France or Russia needed more intervention in its economy to create a military than England or Japan. The superficial differences confuse how much overlap there is between neoliberalism and every other acceptable school.

2) Possession of property of course puts people in different places in social life. Neoliberalism and the old liberalism alike held that freedom and justice were a balance of classes, that the state would maintain. How interventionist the state must be, again would vary. But the legitimacy of any intervention is held to be based not just on whether it was meant to maintain the proper balance of classes, but upon whether it was done with consent.

Today the usual phrase is the rule of law. But this is a claim the means justify the ends, which is moral imbecility. Unjust laws do not make for justice.

The real justification for the rule of law is as an ends in itself, as social order no matter what, where class freedoms are safe. The overlap between this commitment from neoliberalism and other arrangements should be obvious, not confusing, but it is what is is. Democracy is about equality of money. In political terms, the spectrum of capitalist forms of the political regime, runs from the libertarian/neoliberal ideal on the left (there is a reason libertarians reprint Constant and Mill, even Sidney!) to fascism on the right.

Fascism is an essential alternative weapon in the greater struggle, where individuals sacrifice for the power of the nation, which means the ruling classes of the nation, in substance though not in person. The tolerable version of social democracy lie somewhere in the center, putting class collaboration and corporate freedom above the purest visions of freedom, which would be preposterous universe of small business owners and farmers and professionals. But the notion democracy means human rights is purely ideological, refuted by history. It means citizen rights, because, the rules are all.

3) The novel issues that provoked the emergence of a neoliberalism distinct from the other political philosophies are as much a product of economic history (change!) as the disappearance Court vs. Country as the axis of politics in England. I suggest that, while Slobodian may be correct that the loss of empire was hugely important to a group who devised some justifications for neoliberalism, in practice, the decline, then disappearance of the gold standard, the increasing importance of finance, the US hegemony over the world, the commitment to reversing the Great Compression, to restoring a more just balance (as they see it,) between capital and labor were important. In US domestic politics, the secular stagnation in real wages, despite the increased labor as wives entered the labor force, were the point. And it is by no means clear that there are any significant forces opposing this.

[Jun 23, 2019] As a matter of semantics, neo-liberalism delivered on the promise of freedom...for capitalists

Apr 10, 2019 | discussion.theguardian.com

marshwren , 10 Apr 2019 22:29

As a matter of semantics, neo-liberalism delivered on the promise of freedom...for capitalists to be free of ethical accountability, social responsibility, and government regulation and taxes...

[May 07, 2019] How the Medal of Freedom Became a Fraud

May 07, 2019 | www.theamericanconservative.com

How the Medal of Freedom Became a Fraud Before we pass out any more of these devalued trophies, we need to figure out what "freedom" means. By Andrew J. Bacevich May 7, 2019

As headlines go, the one appearing in The New York Times on November 16, 2018 does not qualify as a showstopper. "Trump Awards Medals of Freedom to Elvis, Babe Ruth and Miriam Adelson," the Times reported. Most readers taking note of this ceremony, which presidents have been hosting annually for over a half-century now, probably shrugged and poured themselves another cup of coffee. Yet here, in this accolade conferred on the King, the Bambino, and the wife of a casino mogul, we get a glimpse of how far down the road to perdition our beloved country has traveled.

For a century and a half after declaring its independence, the United States managed to survive -- nicely, in fact -- without any such means of conferring presidential favor. Only in the 1960s did John F. Kennedy discover this void in American civic life and set out to fill it. His decision to do so cannot be understood except in the context of the then-ongoing and frosty Cold War.

Kennedy's predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had made much ado about America's close association with the divine, inserting "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance and signing legislation making "In God We Trust" the national motto. Here, according to Ike, was the essence of what distinguished us from our adversaries. We believed; they did not.

Under Kennedy, God suffered a demotion of sorts, supplanted by freedom in the hierarchy of objects deemed worthy of worship. In his famous inaugural address, Kennedy not only anointed freedom as the supreme value but also declared that it was in imminent peril. Simultaneously celebrating freedom -- implicitly defined as opposing communism -- while warning of its impending demise emerged as an abiding theme of JFK's abbreviated and largely undistinguished presidency.

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Considered in that context, the Medal of Freedom forms part of a larger effort to package in a single word America's mission, history's purpose, and the aspirations of all humanity, with Kennedy himself their foremost champion. According to the directive establishing the award, its aim was to honor individuals making an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

The criteria are worth noting. The first and second qualify as straightforward and unobjectionable, if perhaps not mutually consistent. The third criterion, by comparison, is broad and vague -- sufficiently elastic to include just about anyone doing anything that happens to catch a president's fancy.

Almost from the outset, recipients of the Medal of Freedom have tended to fall into one of three categories. In the first are individuals who testify to the incumbent president's preferred self-image. For Kennedy that meant sophistication and class. So the first tranche of those selected to receive the Medal of Freedom featured such notables as singer Marian Anderson, cellist Pablo Casals, photographer Edward Steichen, and literary critic Edmund Wilson.

The second category is all about virtue signaling, as exemplified by Richard Nixon's choices of labor leader David Dubinsky and composer Duke Ellington to receive the Medal of Freedom. Evidence suggesting that Nixon was particularly fond of left-leaning labor organizers or African Americans is sparse. Yet by honoring Dubinsky and Ellington, Nixon could strike an appearance of being broad-minded, tolerant, and even hip, at virtually no cost to himself.

In the third category are individuals chosen to make a political statement, more often than not catering to a particular constituency. Ronald Reagan's selection of Louis L'Amour, author of potboiler cowboy novels, pleased his Western fan base. Similarly, his choices of Milton Friedman, Clare Boothe Luce, and Albert Wohlstetter found favor with free marketeers, devout anti-communists, and neoconservatives, respectively.

Little of this mattered. The Medal of Freedom's substantive impact was on a par with the presidential pardon granted to a couple of lucky turkeys just prior to Thanksgiving each year. It amounted to little more than a photo-op. In the larger scheme of things, the Medal of Freedom did nothing to hasten the downfall of the Evil Empire. The best we can say is that it did not retard the eventual outcome of the long twilight struggle.

With the end of the Cold War, however, and especially after 9/11, the Medal of Freedom went from being irrelevant to somewhere between whimsical and fraudulent. Any correlation with freedom as such, never more than tenuous in the first place, dissolved altogether. For evidence, we need look no further than the current crop of awardees.

That the Sultan of Swat and Elvis each left an indelible mark on American life is no doubt the case. Yet Babe Ruth died in 1948 while Presley "left the building" in 1977. Awarding them the Medal of Freedom at this point adds nothing to their stature and smacks of presumption, more or less akin to the Congress promoting George Washington to the rank of General of the Armies back in 1976. Besides, if Ruth, why not Lou Gehrig? Why not the entire 1927 Yankees starting lineup? If Presley, why not Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper? Why not every member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

As for Ms. Adelson, while her philanthropic activities are admirable, they fall well short of being unique. In fact, her selection to receive this presidential bauble stems less from Adelson's charitable giving than from her marriage to a billionaire who donated $25 million to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign while kicking in another $113 million to support the Republican Party two years later. The Adelson Medal of Freedom was bought and paid for many times over.

I do not mean to imply that Trump deserves principal blame for trivializing and degrading the Medal of Freedom. On that score, primary credit goes to George W. Bush, who conferred this ostensibly great distinction on three individuals who figured prominently in engineering the debacle of the Iraq war: former CIA director George "Slam Dunk" Tenet, General Tommy Franks, and failed American viceroy L. Paul Bremer. Passing out laurels to mediocrities who screw up: for evidence of the sense of entitlement that has come to pervade the American establishment, one need look no further.

President Barack Obama's contribution to the Medal of Freedom's decline in status was of a different order: he gave out medals like pieces of Halloween candy, his 123 being the most ever awarded by any president. As any list of honorees becomes longer, it necessarily becomes less selective. So Ellen DeGeneres got one from Obama, as did Ernie Banks, Michael Jordan, and basketball coach Dean Smith. All estimable individuals no doubt, but arguably not what JFK had in mind when he instituted the Medal of Freedom in the first place.

Whatever modest value JFK's initiative may once have possessed has long since dissipated. In the present moment, with Americans disagreeing vehemently as to what freedom requires, permits, or prohibits, it just might be time to give the Medal of Freedom a rest. Let's figure out what freedom means. Then it may once more become appropriate to honor those who exemplify it.

Andrew J. Bacevich is TAC 's writer at large. His new book Twilight of the American Century has just been published.

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

Mar 20, 2019 | www.nakedcapitalism.com

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lfInFVPkQs

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

+100

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 ( https://www.galeriemagazine.com/norman-rockwell-four-freedoms-modern/ ) 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 | www.unz.com

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 | discussion.theguardian.com

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 | www.counterpunch.org

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 www.wrightswriting.com .

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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