I think I might wind up writing an encyclopaedia in the end (I’d say it would require no more than 35 volumes) about the thousands of holes and hypocrisies contained within that economic theory laughably dubbed neoliberalism.
I’m working on a population piece at the moment (put that one down to insanity) and it’s put me in mind of at least a hundred new ways to collapse the Friedmanite myth.
Try this one for size. ‘There is room for infinite economic growth because as the population grows and capitalism takes hold in Asia, people will become better off, and then they’ll stop having so many children and consume more’.
Except that the trickling of every major nation down the neoliberal mine has reached the same end-result: the vast majority’s spending power reduced by 30% within at most fifteen years. The WHO calculates that 79% of China’s population lives at or below the poverty level. And if they have fewer children, with the technology now available they’ll screw up the gender balance. And there will be in the end, um, fewer people to consume.
It’s tosh, isn’t it? Pure, unadulterated tosh: ‘we’re going to have an infinite number of new consoomers, but it won’t be harmful for the planet because the numbers will be rich and finite in the end’. This is the ‘yes is really no’ shtick one gets into when serving two irreconcilable masters, the Shareholders and the Thinkers. It’s what George Orwell, in a more honest age, called Doublethink…and what the management shrinks term cognitive dissonance today.
Do the Shareholders and bonused Directors think? Of course they do. They think about munnneeee and they think about how they want the munnneee Right Now. I want the munnneee from the water utility profits and I don’t GAF about the degrading infrastructure, because by the time all the H20 supplies are messed up, I’ll be dead. It’s a fantastically functional Weltanschauung, and it’s called Unenlightened Self-interest. Taken to it’s illogical conclusion, it becomes what one might call ugnitive pissonus: the favoured philosophy of these who leave knuckle-lines in the carpet.
Myriad Strategems used by those who dishonestly call themselves neoliberals comprise the broad Neoliberal Church we see today, because this is the only way to hide the cul-de-sac nature of what they’re really after, which is greedy monopolism. Myriad Strategems was a lovely girl: a one-time student of Milt Friedman, in fact. But as the years went by and stole her looks, poor Myriad developed a serious case of multiple personality disorder. She became, at one time or another, various nomics: Reaganomics, Gordonomics, and now Abenomics. Her role is to enable greedy protectionists everywhere to defend The Lord Thy Friedman by saying “Milt wouldn’t have approved of this”.
Problem is, everything Milt did approve of produced ‘this’. He approved of Reagan, the initial creator of the debt that will one day do for the USA. He approved of Thatcher, the final impaler of Britain’s manufacturing and energy base – and liberator of the bankers whose debt will one day do for us all. He approved of remote shareholders, and placed them in importance above society – without whose education provision there wouldn’t be any commercial ideas. He approved wildly of stock markets, including their neuroses, derivatives and electronic trading. And above all, he approved of Government staying out of Wall Street. My oh my, what a great call that was.
But the one thing I can’t stick on Milt is the willingness of the drowning, who cling desperately to his straw hat, to pretend that the world’s economy and financial system in 2014 bear an even sub-atomic resemblance to what The Great Neo proposed. Never was a madcap theory so hastily abandoned as neoliberalism was in 2008. Hank Paulson will (whether he likes it or not) go down in history as the author of easily the world’s biggest single act of nationalisation at that time. And Ben Bernanke in turn has no challenger for the title Greatest Keynesian stimulator in history.
Yes, the final irony is that while Milton Friedman most definitely would NOT have approved of anything that’s been done in the last five years, without the financial intervention that was undertaken, there would be no banks, the stock market would be in four figures, there would’ve been no Zirp, and the world would indeed be a much better place today. So well done Milt, in the end your principles would have achieved what almost everyone on the planet now wants: the death of your potty ideas. Kamikaze Friedman, they’d be calling you.
In truth of course, there is no difference at all between Friedman and Marx: both were Utopian intellectuals whose ideas crumbled in practice because they didn’t understand how the human being is wired, and they didn’t grasp how technology and atheism were, together, changing the attitude of Homo sapiens to his wiring. Neither man got out enough, neither man had any commercial experience, and neither man had access to the radical advances that have taken in place in technology, social anthropology, neuroscience and neuroanatomy.
These great leaps forward also render Keynes irrelevant too, although JMK did at least understand people and politicians. But in my view, the development of technological, social interaction and brain theory is so much further on today than it was even two decades ago, no past thinker has anything to bring to the Party. Although they’re irrelevant however, the one thing they do have going for them is at least they didn’t live to see such things, but ignore them anyway.
The key people in business, banking, politics and the media do not have the excuse of those they so admire: they are plain, stinking ignorant, and desperate adherents to the ‘settled’ view of progress. “This is it, we’ve got the the peak now, there is no alternative: it is the death of…[insert word here]”.
Blairism rested on the idea there were no new political ideas, only tactics and technocrats. Britain’s economy is today based on the foolish belief that paper expertise is the only thing that matters in “the post Industrial Age”. The vast majority of the contemporary Conservative Party are fanatical about a form of capitalism to which they say there is no alternative, but to which there palpably is. Democrats in the US cling to ideas of social welfare that are at least half to blame for the parlous state of its inner cities, while the Republicans still embrace the economics that clearly carry the other half of the blame. The Daily Telegraph in Britain simply cannot grasp the concept of free-market globalism being wrong-headed, and nor can the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, or The Times. All of them are owned by isolated moguls who think there is little more to human satisfaction than wealth. This is not an accident.
Labour’s gender ideas are based on a behaviourist outlook discredited thirty years ago. Left Foot Forward writes as if the years from 1953 to 1997 had never happened. Berlin operates on the basis that cultural difference might be little more than a silly mistake. Brussels created the single currency on the assumption that anthropology is bunk from start to finish.
All of this ignorance, all of this short-termism, and all of this faith desperation are the products of one thing above all: fear. Once society’s superstructural thought is based on fear, then the results are unavoidable: creative stagnation, denialism and, eventually, repression.
I will offer three simple but brutally obvious examples of each in turn.
Last week, 70% of the theatre on offer in London’s West End was either a revival, a media crossover, a celebrity life-story musical, or a genre crossover. Last week, over 55% of all the UK television on offer was a repeat, a makeover programme, an antiques format, or about holidays, house renovation, celebrity news, game shows, gardening or sport. We have not had a qualitatively new musical form in nearly forty years. The last hugely successful sitcom was Only Fools & Horses. 60+% of US film production last year was male action or remake. Visual art has not had a real breakthrough since the early work of Dali.
This is unadulterated risk aversion.
Those wrestling vainly with today’s social, economic and financial problems display denial at every turn and on every level. Four bouts of QE, all of them ineffective, but still the Fed and the Bank of England persisted. The Bank of Japan still does. The idea of bailin continues to be promoted when one sum on the back of a small brown envelope should be enough to point out that citizen money is never going to clear the debt. Neoliberals flood the population with credit and drive down the spending power of the majority….but then wonder why consumption won’t kick-start any more. The manufacturing base in the UK remains stubbornly small, but the Chancellor ignores this major problem. Greece simply doesn’t have domestic consumption at all today, because of raised taxes and unemployment…but the Troika keeps on putting both up.
This is denial bordering on derangement.
I first started posting about the boom in security equipment late last year. Digital and visual monitoring, portable crowd control railings, water-cannon and restrictions on freedom of speech are apparent now in Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the US, Singapore, Russia and of course China. Anyone producing the hardware for this sector gives the same response when asked: sales are sky-rocketing.
This in turn is a controlling Establishment getting its ducks in a row. It is blinkered, ignorant and scared bigwigs, whose obsession with power and immediate material return is holding back ingenuity….and will in future hold down creative advances by force if necessary. The oil business, after all, has been doing it for forty years at least.
The folks in charge are morphing into a sort of mediaeval Catholic Church where the Sun still goes round the Earth, and a forcible increase in your height will be the reward for daring to suggest that it’s the other way round. The Age of Inquiry is in hibernation: the new Inquisition is on its way.