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How a Ruthless Network of Super-Rich Ideologues Killed Choice and Destroyed People’s Faith in Politics

Neoliberalism: the deep story that lies beneath Donald Trump’s triumph

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By George Monbiot

The events that led to Donald Trump’s election started in England in 1975. At a meeting a few months after Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative party, one of her colleagues, or so the story goes, was explaining what he saw as the core beliefs of conservatism. She snapped open her handbag, pulled out a dog-eared book, and slammed it on the table. “This is what we believe,” she said. A political revolution that would sweep the world had begun.

The book was The Constitution of Liberty by Frederick Hayek. Its publication, in 1960, marked the transition from an honest, if extreme, philosophy to an outright racket. The philosophy was called neoliberalism. It saw competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. The market would discover a natural hierarchy of winners and losers, creating a more efficient system than could ever be devised through planning or by design. Anything that impeded this process, such as significant tax, regulation, trade union activity or state provision, was counter-productive. Unrestricted entrepreneurs would create the wealth that would trickle down to everyone.

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This, at any rate, is how it was originally conceived. But by the time Hayek came to write The Constitution of Liberty, the network of lobbyists and thinkers he had founded was being lavishly funded by multimillionaires who saw the doctrine as a means of defending themselves against democracy. Not every aspect of the neoliberal programme advanced their interests. Hayek, it seems, set out to close the gap.

He begins the book by advancing the narrowest possible conception of liberty: an absence of coercion. He rejects such notions as political freedom, universal rights, human equality and the distribution of wealth, all of which, by restricting the behaviour of the wealthy and powerful, intrude on the absolute freedom from coercion he demands.

Democracy, by contrast, “is not an ultimate or absolute value”. In fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choice over the direction that politics and society might take.

He justifies this position by creating a heroic narrative of extreme wealth. He conflates the economic elite, spending their money in new ways, with philosophical and scientific pioneers. Just as the political philosopher should be free to think the unthinkable, so the very rich should be free to do the undoable, without constraint by public interest or public opinion.

The ultra rich are “scouts”, “experimenting with new styles of living”, who blaze the trails that the rest of society will follow. The progress of society depends on the liberty of these “independents” to gain as much money as they want and spend it how they wish. All that is good and useful, therefore, arises from inequality. There should be no connection between merit and reward, no distinction made between earned and unearned income, and no limit to the rents they can charge.

Inherited wealth is more socially useful than earned wealth: “the idle rich”, who don’t have to work for their money, can devote themselves to influencing “fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and beliefs”. Even when they seem to be spending money on nothing but “aimless display”, they are in fact acting as society’s vanguard.

Hayek softened his opposition to monopolies and hardened his opposition to trade unions. He lambasted progressive taxation and attempts by the state to raise the general welfare of citizens. He insisted that there is “an overwhelming case against a free health service for all” and dismissed the conservation of natural resources. It should come as no surprise to those who follow such matters that he was awarded the Nobel prize for economics.

By the time Thatcher slammed his book on the table, a lively network of thinktanks, lobbyists and academics promoting Hayek’s doctrines had been established on both sides of the Atlantic, abundantly financed by some of the world’s richest people and businesses, including DuPont, General Electric, the Coors brewing company, Charles Koch, Richard Mellon Scaife, Lawrence Fertig, the William Volker Fund and the Earhart Foundation. Using psychology and linguistics to brilliant effect, the thinkers these people sponsored found the words and arguments required to turn Hayek’s anthem to the elite into a plausible political programme.

Thatcherism and Reaganism were not ideologies in their own right: they were just two faces of neoliberalism. Their massive tax cuts for the rich, crushing of trade unions, reduction in public housing, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services were all proposed by Hayek and his disciples. But the real triumph of this network was not its capture of the right, but its colonisation of parties that once stood for everything Hayek detested.

Bill Clinton and Tony Blair did not possess a narrative of their own. Rather than develop a new political story, they thought it was sufficient to triangulate. In other words, they extracted a few elements of what their parties had once believed, mixed them with elements of what their opponents believed, and developed from this unlikely combination a “third way”.

It was inevitable that the blazing, insurrectionary confidence of neoliberalism would exert a stronger gravitational pull than the dying star of social democracy. Hayek’s triumph could be witnessed everywhere from Blair’s expansion of the private finance initiative to Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, which had regulated the financial sector. For all his grace and touch, Barack Obama, who didn’t possess a narrative either (except “hope”), was slowly reeled in by those who owned the means of persuasion.

As I warned in April, the result is first disempowerment then disenfranchisement. If the dominant ideology stops governments from changing social outcomes, they can no longer respond to the needs of the electorate. Politics becomes irrelevant to people’s lives; debate is reduced to the jabber of a remote elite. The disenfranchised turn instead to a virulent anti-politics in which facts and arguments are replaced by slogans, symbols and sensation. The man who sank Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency was not Donald Trump. It was her husband.

The paradoxical result is that the backlash against neoliberalism’s crushing of political choice has elevated just the kind of man that Hayek worshipped. Trump, who has no coherent politics, is not a classic neoliberal. But he is the perfect representation of Hayek’s “independent”; the beneficiary of inherited wealth, unconstrained by common morality, whose gross predilections strike a new path that others may follow. The neoliberal thinktankers are now swarming round this hollow man, this empty vessel waiting to be filled by those who know what they want. The likely result is the demolition of our remaining decencies, beginning with the agreement to limit global warming.

Those who tell the stories run the world. Politics has failed through a lack of competing narratives. The key task now is to tell a new story of what it is to be a human in the 21st century. It must be as appealing to some who have voted for Trump and Ukip as it is to the supporters of Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn.

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A few of us have been working on this, and can discern what may be the beginning of a story. It’s too early to say much yet, but at its core is the recognition that – as modern psychology and neuroscience make abundantly clear – human beings, by comparison with any other animals, are both remarkably social and remarkably unselfish. The atomisation and self-interested behaviour neoliberalism promotes run counter to much of what comprises human nature.

Hayek told us who we are, and he was wrong. Our first step is to reclaim our humanity.

Originally published here at the Guardian.

2017  February 18


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  • Derryl Hermanutz

    Neoliberalism conceives humans as competitive capitalists. A new narrative must re-assert that humans are humanists. Capitalism empowers the owners of money and property. Humanism empowers humans.

    Capitalism is not as Hayek et al proclaim it: the triumph of rugged individualism. You do not get rich by striding naked into the forest and hacking out a ruggedly individual empire with your bare hands. You do it within a cooperative economic system, with the help of myriad workers and other people. Capitalism is essentially a social project, but the class of people who have manipulated “owernship” into their own hands would like us to believe they built up this vast economic infrastructure by their own ruggedly individual efforts.

    A corporation is a communal (communist) enterprise, where many individuals work together toward common cause. Adam Smith’s free market was populated by farmers, crafters, tradespeople, village merchants: small businesses. A “factory” in Smith’s era was a guy and a few workers using a machine — like a small business welding shop today. Smith’s free market of independent small businesspeople was presented as the antithesis of the free market’s enemies: corporations, who seek (and are granted by governments) monopolies empowered by mercantilist trade laws and supported by the Royal Navy.

    Democratic government is individual people’s bulwark against concentrated corporate power. Which is why neoliberlism seeks to delegitimize democratic government: to annihilate an impediment to the absolute power of concentrated capital.

    Neoliberalism — whose paymaster is concentrated capital — has brainwashed the nations into seeing concentrated financial, economic and commercial power as “rugged individualism”; while seeing organized worker power or consumer power or democratic political power as “communism”.

    Corporate capitalism-cum-finance capitalism and social democracy are opposites. Capitalism worships and serves Almighty $Numbers and the power of concentrated ownership. Commercial banks — not governments — own and operate “money”. Which is why governments are trillionaire bond-debtors, not rich money-printers. Banks, not governments, exercise the sovereign power of money issuance and allocation: which is financial “government” of the economy and the people.

    Social democracy — government that serves the needs, desires and interests of the people — is a humanist project. But it will never happen, unless democratic governments can issue at least some of their own debt-free national money supply. Otherwise any beneficial social and economic reforms will fail the test of “money affordability”.

    • oldngrumpy1

      You were batting 1000 until the second sentence of the last paragraph. It should read “But it will never happen until the people realize that democratic governments can issue all of their own debt-free national money supply.”

      A government with a sovereign (unpinned to any commodity) currency that denominates its debt in that same currency “CAN NOT” go broke, even if its tax revenues are 0. Such a government is only restricted by inflation, and inflation will only occur when the potential to provide goods and services to balance the currency supply is realized. We are far from that and are leaving tremendous amounts of potential on the table, never to be regained.

      We have been free of the gold standard for forty five years, but still manage our economy by its rules and constraints. Once we agree that a project/program would benefit the greater good we only have to pay for it by paying for it, and injecting currency into the market by doing so. With such a properly managed economy taxation becomes a drain on the private sector, not an income source for the public sector. Public deficits represent private reserves, which taxation draws down. It would be comical, if it weren’t so tragic, that we inject a dollar into the economy, tax back ninety cents of it, and then point to the dime remaining as the source of our woes.

      • Derryl Hermanutz

        I don’t disagree in principle, grumpy1, with the radical monetary system reform that Irving Fisher called “100% Money”: so that all money would be government-issued “money”; and banks would have to get money from depositors before they could make loans. Benes and Kumhof revived and updated Fisher’s program in their 2012 paper, The Chicago Plan Revisited. It would “work”. Technically. But politically, all efforts at monetary reform over the past century have produced exactly zero actual monetary reform. Governments still issue “none” of their national money supply, except the physical currency; which governments don’t spend into circulation (like Franklin and Lincoln did). So I join people like Adair Turner in advocating “moderate” reform: government issuance of “some” of the money supply. Maybe this time is different. Maybe this time some government, somewhere, might actually issue some of its own debt-free spending money. …amidst the horrified shrieks of Weimar!!! Zimbabwe!!! blasting from the mouths of the ideologically blinded conventional wisdom.

        • oldngrumpy1

          I agree that implementation of reform would have to be incremental in today’s political environment, unless we are faced with another crisis such as we saw in ’08. I can guarantee that our government currently funds much of the military with “created” money that never hits the books. It isn’t a matter of changing how our system works, but one of making it work for us instead of the neoliberal agenda.

          A good place to start would be the elimination of the payroll tax deduction in funding Social Security, or the implementation of single payer health care which would eliminate the Medicare deductions. Doing so would introduce Modern Monetary Theory to the populace and put some currency flow into the economy.

          Weimar was a disaster that was mostly due to it having to pay reparation for the war to the tune of 25% of its GDP. It was a failure of the overall economy more than an inflation event. Zimbabwe was just Zimbabwe.

          I think the proper use of the central bank can be beneficial. Loaning money into existence is not a bad way to manage the supply, but shouldn’t be the only method. Infrastructure spending places the money lower in the economic hierarchy and returns benefits for future generations that simple consumer lending can’t.

          • Brian H

            Since we have this “magic money tree” anyway, wouldn’t it make more sense to just skip right to Universal Basic Income? Once everyone has the basic income necessary to travel around our reborn country, then we can double-down with high-speed rail powered by vast solar energy farms…all provided by inexhaustible money supply. It does sound like a utopia.

          • oldngrumpy1

            UBI is inevitable anyway. Full employment simply isn’t possible, or even desirable, when automation takes the repetitive motion jobs. I would prefer a job guarantee over UBI, but the cost factor would be the same. With a job guarantee we would rediscover service to community and everyone would work within their range of talent/ability, so the drudgery factor would go away. I believe that people actually prefer to be useful, but object to the current blackmail system of employment.

            Within such a system capitalism would still exist and there will always be a demand for human labor in many areas. A job guarantee would provide employers with available labor for simply upping the anti in wages to entice the talent they want. The labor pool concept would avoid the deterioration of life/people skills that accompanies straight welfare payments for doing nothing.

            Of course, the big qualifier to this being successful is universal single payer health care that follows one without interruption. I guess that would make single payer the place to begin utilizing MMT.

      • Shirley Lane

        Thank you so very much for this comment and your ability to communicate this monetary policy so clearly.

  • NO!

    Trump is not hollow.

    No person is hollow.

    All people are complex beyond the capacity of any person to comprehend or reliably predict.

    Every individual deserves and requires respect.

    Pretense at anything less than that simply exposes the biases of the individual concerned.

    And Derryl has a point.
    Deprive any newborn human of the cooperative environment it needs, and it will die.

    Having just lived through a 7.8 earthquake I am profoundly aware of the many levels of cooperation required for us to survive. Yes von Hayek accurately identified signalling mechanisms and incentive structures in markets, and he failed completely to identify the strategic impacts of exponentially expanding technology and automation, and the fundamental impossibility of market based systems to deal effectively with the sorts of universal abundance that fully automated systems make possible.

    Human beings are profoundly complex at many levels.

    We can be the most profoundly cooperative species, or the most profoundly competitive species, and which shows up in practice depends of the context that we each individually (subconsciously) perceive.

    Our future fundamentally depends on the sorts of contexts we consciously create and spread.

    Demonising or degrading or disrespecting anyone doesn’t help.

    We exist in a deeply multicultural society.
    That demands of us that we negotiate boundaries with others.
    Negotiation happens in the unknowns beyond and between cultures.
    To find that space we need to create respect, we need to listen, we need to step beyond our comfort zones.

    We are in a profoundly complex world.

    Looking for simplicity where it does not exist is something human beings do very well.
    We are capable of deep self deception.
    We can justify almost anything to ourselves, and often do.

    It seems to me, that if we want a future of security and prosperity, then it demands of us a basic set of values.
    The minimum possible common set seems to be a respect for individual life, and a respect for individual liberty, applied universally.
    Those things demand of us both responsibility and reasonableness.

    Sure, we all tend to simplify things, we need to, and when under stress we all tend to take that far too far.

    • Eli Levine

      My only concern with this comment is that some people honestly don’t want to be saved from themselves and their deeply held interests and beliefs. We should never withdraw our hands from the Neoliberals or the Right-wing permanently. However, I don’t think we should be so sad or concerned about them if they, through their own choices, fail, and go extinct as a sub-set of the human species.

      In my view, there is a science to governing. There is an art of politics, which is how you persuade and convince people to go with what you’re hoping to do. But all politics is bound by the same laws of governing and the same requisites for human society’s and governments’ survival. Poorly run societies tend to have poor or weak political institutions that are not accountable to the general needs of society (Acemoglu and Robinson). They seem to be more politically chaotic (governments don’t last as long), and less compassionate for their own people. I would argue that the lack of compassion directed at people is the cause of the short lifespans of these governments and institutions, looking at it from a historical perspective, moving forward on the x-axis of time.

      The Right-wing and Neoliberal ideologues don’t seem to have much compassion for the rest of the world, and have shown now interest in managing society well, or doing the tasks that societies need from governments, and can only reliably get from governments. Therefore, I am personally not sure it is necessary for us to force the Right or the Neoliberals into anything they don’t want to do. But I would remind you, that there is an evolutionary imperative for survival and adaptation; which neither of these groups do well in the first place. I don’t think that the Right-wing or the Neoliberals are up for the evolutionary cut due to their own mental failings. Therefore, again, I’d rather see that they actually learn something, rather than simply be given carte blanche.

      • The harsh reality we all face is that the vast majority of people, of all persuasions, would rather die than seriously challenge a foundational belief.

        I challenge everything.

        I don’t have beliefs or truth in the classical sense, just things that seem probable in particular contexts.

        Evolution is about survival in particular contexts or niches.

        Every idea currently in existence is by definition surviving in some context.

        Some environments are lethal to particular organisms – same goes for ideas (meme complexes).

        I am clear, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, that the very idea of money has reached the end of its social utility, and is now posing more dangers than it delivers benefits to the vast majority of people, but few people are sufficiently familiar with games theory and its derivatives, or complexity theory and its derivatives, to be conscious of that fact.

        So for me left wing, right wing, neocon, marxist are all roughly equivalently demonstrably wrong.

        And I fully acknowledge that I am in a very tiny group in today’s reality.

        I’m not suggesting giving anyone carte blanche.

        I am suggesting that being disrespectful to people does not forward education or awareness or negotiation or our shared long term interest and security.

        I don’t think the idea of anyone facing the evolutionary cut is one we want to approve of.
        I see that it is possible for all individuals to survive, and some ideas seem very likely to go extinct.

        I would love to see neoliberalism go the way of the dinosaurs, but for that to happen by the people who currently identify themselves as neoliberals adopting a different set of understandings. I don’t want to see any person dying.

        And I acknowledge that the probability of that happening any time soon is small.

      • SouthBender

        I agree, the best way to learn about the failures & short-comings of a political philosophy is to allow the majority at the receiving end of it’s shortcomings to experience it, in all it’s failed ‘glories’ – as will soon happen to most hopeful supporters of Trumps ability to drain anything, much less institute any positive change in the lives of the disappearing middle class in this democracy!

        One way to ‘knock the sox’ off Neoliberalism would be the institution of a free, & fair-marketed Bitcoin-based economy! Where a worth & value is truly determined by the holders of the ‘coin itself – not externally controlled by banksters or
        current fraudsters controlling world economic schemes.

        Imagine what a different world it would be, if they awoke one day to find all the ill-gotten ‘value’ of their digital riches were worth $0 (Universal Bitcoin) on the Humanistic Common Market?

    • Rory Short

      Life is more complex than we can comprehend. Evolution led to the development of nervous systems that enabled their possessors to negotiate through life and survive to reproduce. The nervous systems eventually became complex enough to be self conscious and in my experience, I am a Quaker, capable of communicating with the All Pervasive Consciousness that permeates the Universe. Through this communication with the APC we are guided, if we choose to accept it, on how to act most usefully in this complex world.

      • Hi Rory
        Operationally I suspect we agree, but I use a different explanatory framework.
        It seems most likely to me that the thing we communicate with is an aspect of our own subconscious. And experientially it certainly does have those attributes, just as experientially we see the earth being flat, the sun rising, and the earth at the center of the universe. And creating different contexts allows us to have different understandings of those experiences.

        I don’t argue with anyone’s experience, just their interpretations.

        • Rory Short

          Ted, agreed 100%, It is our experience which is primary, thoughts/ interpretations are secondary and therefore, rightly, subject to revision. In my experience some Quakers are comfortable in believing that there is a God out there separate from us and the Universe, I am not. The existence of such a being is not confirmed by any of my senses, it is therefore a delusion. Illusory thoughts give rise to suffering both individually and collectively. That is how evolution tries to clear illusions, I think. The history of religions, founded on a belief in a God out there, is filled with immeasurable suffering. I experience inwardly something greater than I presently am. Many people call it God. You see it as – “It seems most likely to me that the thing we communicate with is an aspect of our own subconscious.”
          I see enlightenment as taught in Buddhism as being the merging of our little sparks of consciousness with the All Pervasive Cnsciousness. This, to my mind, is another way of saying what you say above. I follow the Buddha’s teachings as I am a Buddhist in one of the Tibetan traditions, as well as a being a practicing Quaker.

  • This is a polemic rather than an argument, so I’ll simply point out my favorite candidate for most absurd proposition: Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty “marked the transition from an honest, if extreme, philosophy [liberalism] to an outright racket”.

    • Nicholas Gruen

      Yes, a pity he doesn’t take more care. Hayek didn’t even defend capitalism as all that just.

    • NickM

      How about “Inherited wealth is more socially useful than earned wealth” as a summary of Hayek’s view? That would be my candidate.

  • lukelea

    When you came to the need to combat global warming, you lost me. The warming promises to be moderate and, on balance, good for the world; which is a good thing because there is little we could do to stop it. This is not anti-science, It is based on an honest appraisal of what the science actually supports. Conviction in the truth catastrophic global warming is an apocalyptic religion (in my opinion).

    • SouthBender

      It isn’t whether or not Global Warming is ‘real’ in the anti-science world that even matters any longer. There is, inarguably, a rapid & unstoppable melting of the permafrost layer in the arctic region which contains megatons of methane gas, burping up just below our feet. When that trickle becomes a torrent, the second coming of ‘The Big Bang’ awaits us all.

  • droogpunk

    I’ve made a documentary on the central characters of your story, the “Ruthless Network of Super-Rich Ideologues”… watch it here: http://www.djedefsauron.net

  • Sionna B.

    I think there is a step missing. Prior to Hayek was Liebniz. They work together. Liebniz’ philosophy underpinned his idea of a perfect world created by a perfect god and manifested in a perfect market. Neoliberalism is really underpinned by a religion of purity and perfection which guided Liebniz in ‘inventing’ General Equilibrium. Or at least that is my bad interpretation of the clear writing of George Krimpas, in “Modern Political Economics: Making sense of the post-2008 world” pp 166-176. Authors Yanis Varoufakis, Joseph Halevi and Nicholas J. Theocarakis. Highly recommended reading for any economist who wants to delve into inherent errors in basic theory.

    • Jan de Jonge

      I think you refer to Leibniz. They did not work together as Leibniz lived in the 17e century.
      “Leibniz is most noted for his optimism, i.e. his conclusion that our Universe is, in a restricted sense, the best possible one that God could have created” (Wikipedia)
      That is something different than the economic concept of general equilibrium.

      • Sionna B.

        The ideas ‘work together’. That is figurative language. It is not literal. Obviously I did not mean that the men worked together on the ideas. ?????

        • Jan de Jonge

          Sionna. Lets be frank. Their “ideas didn’t work together” figuratively. Leibniz never talked about markets, and the notion of general equilibrium was clearly unknown to him. Only in your phantasy the ideas of Leibniz and Hayek could be connected, but only in an artificial way. The only philosopher whose ideas connect with those of Leibniz was Voltaire who ridiculed Leibniz ideas in his book Candide.

          • Sionna B.

            Such sneering! People like you are the reason ordinary people hate academics! Read this book if you can’t get the connection dude: “Modern Political Economics: Making sense of the post-2008 world” Yanis Varoufakis, Joseph Halevi and Nicholas J. Halevi. 2011. pp 115 – 176. Chapter heading “Liebniz’s calculus and the ascent of Calvinist political economics”, paying special attention to the addendum to the chapter by George Krimpas which includes a copy of Liebniz’s original text and a translation. If you don’t want to aggravate social problems, try not sneering from your high horse.

          • Jan de Jonge

            Sionna. Relax! I know Varoufakis. I like his writings. I have read “The Global Minotaur”. I can imagine that he wrote about an analogy between the best possible world of Leibniz (not Liebniz) and the idea of general equilibrium of neo-classicals. He has humour, it is not to be taken too seriously. That aspect escaped you, I think. That is not a problem. Don’t feel humiliated. I’m corrected occasionally also. That is part of the game.

  • William Ellis

    If It were not for persistent minority rule in America (gerrymandering and Electoral College ) This article would have a very different tone..

    That same thing could obviously be said about the flood of articles in every field that seek to find the faults of the past and point a new way forward for the left ….

    But, aren’t we missing the point ? Minority rule in America has become the norm… It’s locked in…

    We don’t take ending minority rule in America seriously… but there are practical ways to actually do it.. The hard part would be the policts…. But arguing for minority rule is a pretty tricky proposition…. Still ending minority rule is a long shot…but…

    So is making America much more liberal….

    We liberals already are a majority…. If not for gerrymandering We would have controlled Congress for the past 8 years… We won the last presidential election…
    Democrats got about a million more votes for congress that the repubs… but Repubs still control congress..

    in a time when it’s hard to get a majority to agree on anything… how realistic is it to think we can from a kind of super majority that we would need just to get the control that should fall to the majority….??? Not that I have anything against trying…

    It’s just that , in a way, ceeding the need to get a super majority, seems to be like giving in to an unfair burden at the start… Instead of justly protesting …

    maybe ending minority rule in america is not any crazier than any other solution to get power back in the hands of the people ???

  • Michael Morse

    Well, I would remind that competition is an antonym of cooperation. We don’t need to reinvent language, we need to reclaim what has been trashed.

    But what I really wanted to say is that anyone who believes Obama wasn’t sailing on the bridge of the USS Neoliberal on Jan 20 2009 wasn’t paying attention.

  • Ronald Pires

    Hayek?

    Hayek is the patron saint of Paul Ryan. And David and Charles Koch.

  • Trendisnotdestiny

    A couple points here for Monbiot. First, I appreciate his tenacity in his books to illuminate power processes among the elite — how they affect the rest of society. Second, I do think there are pieces here that offer insight (i.e. historical alliances using academics as legitimacy agents). Third, there needs to be greater, more comprehensive understandings of neoliberalism.

    However, I am not sure Monbiot is the guy to begin the conversation. Philip Mirowski (prof at Notre Dame) has written the definitive history on the origins of neoliberalism with Dieter Plewe – called the road to Mount Pelerin. Anywho, major contentions are that there are more than type of neoliberalism — one should be careful when using this term when it conflates with Thatcherism, Reaganism etc… Two, the term is antiquated, in that, nobody really identifies as a neoliberal (not Clinton nor the most ardent economists pushing their wares like the deceased Milton Friedman. So, we should see the word as a poor descriptor — even my own preferred use of the process of neoliberalism (adapted from Chomsky’s Profits Over People) —- is a poor mechanistic explanation.

    Sell Open Markets using democracy a cudgel
    Assess and gain entry to Markets and participants
    De-regulate Markets
    Privatize Markets
    Cut Social Supports (foster Market dependency)
    Protect Profits (using Monopoly tactics)

    Mirowski is really the best at getting at what it is —- it is a tactical not to kill government, but to infiltrate it (think tanks, academe, politicians and monied for-profit companies) and remove all obstacles to more and more power.

    Monbiot needs to read and discuss Mirowski’s work before I read much more of his.

  • Andy White

    FIRST – Thatcher and Reagan weren’t neo-li berals not neo-conservatives, they grabbed hold of the conservative narrative and “changed it” by appealing to the powers that be.

    Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (particularly the later) created neo – liberalism by taking hold of the liberal/progressive agenda and bringing it into alignment with the ideas of Hayek and more importantly Ayn Rand and “objectivism” and a Hobbesian view of human nature.

    This difference/ distinction is important.

    SECOND – Both the left and the right in political, ideological and narrative terms hold “the same view” of human nature…. In that humanity can be split into two (three) types of people… There are the übermensch – the elite, awakened, enlightened, wealth providers or whatever (the right – Conservatives and left – Liberals have different ideas on who the übermensch are or should be) and then there are “the common people” – the masses, sheeple, zombies, slaves, unwashed e.t.c.

    Both the left and right contain self justifying elites that believe they have “the true/real IDEOLOGY”, and both hold everyone else in contempt and blame them for “what is going wrong”.

    Recognising the difference between the neo-cons and neo-libs is recognising the hard austerity Hayek talked about as “the answer” and the molly coddling, politically correct idealism, mixed with hard market reality of Blair and the Clintons.

    THIRD – We need a new narrative, a new way of looking at us as a species. A way to look at human nature and interaction which rejects the dystopian neo-cons and utopian neo-liberals, both have idealistic visions of how the world is and the world should be – one is bright, the other dark and both are delusional wishful thinking based simplistic reductionism and solutions.

    To create a new consensus I think (and talk about – note I am a wandering public speaking philosopher who’s ideas have been heard by millions of people) we need to go beyond the simplistic idea of the individual and collective individual, and embrace the full diversity of our differences, accept the world isn’t perfect, that we aren’t all the same, that we actually need to organise and structure society… And liberty, freedom and opportunity are things that are gained, created and maintained by consensus, are integral to the masses (the masses are more important than minorities) and do require “abstract concepts, realities and institutions” which are created by humanity for the benefit of humanity… Hierarchy, Authority and evonomics (some kind of ledger system is crucial).

    For a new narrative to form we have to break from the old…. Which means allowing new voices and ideas to circulate and form in the public sphere….. AND that we acknowledge the levels of paranoid conspiracy bullshit that is flying around (the alt “woke” debate which attacks the institution of democracy and concepts of government) as these cast the only viable solutions as *the problem*.

  • Andy White

    FIRST – Thatcher and Reagan weren’t neo-li berals not neo-conservatives, they grabbed hold of the conservative narrative and “changed it” by appealing to the powers that be.

    Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (particularly the later) created neo – liberalism by taking hold of the liberal/progressive agenda and bringing it into alignment with the ideas of Hayek and more importantly Ayn Rand and “objectivism” and a Hobbesian view of human nature.

    This difference/ distinction is important.

    SECOND – Both the left and the right in political, ideological and narrative terms hold “the same view” of human nature…. In that humanity can be split into two (three) types of people… There are the übermensch – the elite, awakened, enlightened, wealth providers or whatever (the right – Conservatives and left – Liberals have different ideas on who the übermensch are or should be) and then there are “the common people” – the masses, sheeple, zombies, slaves, unwashed e.t.c.

    Both the left and right contain self justifying elites that believe they have “the true/real IDEOLOGY”, and both hold everyone else in contempt and blame them for “what is going wrong”.

    Recognising the difference between the neo-cons and neo-libs is recognising the hard austerity Hayek talked about as “the answer” and the molly coddling, politically correct idealism, mixed with hard market reality of Blair and the Clintons.

    THIRD – We need a new narrative, a new way of looking at us as a species. A way to look at human nature and interaction which rejects the dystopian neo-cons and utopian neo-liberals, both have idealistic visions of how the world is and the world should be – one is bright, the other dark and both are delusional wishful thinking based simplistic reductionism and solutions.

    To create a new consensus I think (and talk about – note I am a wandering public speaking philosopher who’s ideas have been heard by millions of people) we need to go beyond the simplistic idea of the individual and collective individual, and embrace the full diversity of our differences, accept the world isn’t perfect, that we aren’t all the same, that we actually need to organise and structure society… And liberty, freedom and opportunity are things that are gained, created and maintained by consensus, are integral to the masses (the masses are more important than minorities) and do require “abstract concepts, realities and institutions” which are created by humanity for the benefit of humanity… Hierarchy, Authority and evonomics (some kind of ledger system is crucial).

    For a new narrative to form we have to break from the old…. Which means allowing new voices and ideas to circulate and form in the public sphere….. AND that we acknowledge the levels of paranoid conspiracy bullshit that is flying around (the alt “woke” debate which attacks the institution of democracy and concepts of government) as these cast the only viable solutions as *the problem*.

  • UncleB

    So much errant killing in this world, even more, irresponsible childbirth, but the same human given a fair chance can perform miracles. Biological EROI, undeniably the final answer to all religions, cults, clans, political powers, and races. Allah, Father G d, Mother God, Mohamed, Jesus, Buddha, all failed to respect this very human reality.

  • Ted Wells

    Socialists/communists conned people by convincing them to turn over all private property. Once stripped of their resources, the people were powerless to protect themselves. The elite (not surprisingly) “changed their minds” and enjoyed their plunder –rather than supplying the utopian vision they had promised.

    “Free market”/anarcho-capitalists con people by convincing them to turn over all their public property (roads, police forces, courts, schools, forests, parks, land, etc). Once stripped of these resources, we should not be surprised if the elites “change their minds”…rather than supplying the utopian vision they have promised. How powerless will we be if we are not allowed to travel on roads (because they are now all privately owned)? How powerless will we be if corporations and wealthy individuals buy their own police forces, and own the courts?

    The Right correctly sees the dangers of too much government. The Left correctly sees the dangers of too little.

  • John Macgregor

    Nicely put as usual, George.

  • Patrick cardiff

    “The atomisation and self-interested behaviour neoliberalism promotes run counter to much of what comprises human nature.”

    Mmm. Funny. I reached exactly the opposite conclusion:

    I would say, as a social scientist – and I truly believe in evolutionary processes – that aggregate measures of society never held credence, that even if social measures empirically accorded with reality, even with reliably correlative truth, they do not deserve to be prescribed for individuals. That is, mass information is irrelevant to individual human behavior. The scales are different! We economist should have recognized this long ago. We should not be wasting our time on the aggregates. Instead, there are no “economic problems” except as we face and attempt to solve them from our local places, and therefore that the only logical action is bettering the micro-conditions, bottom-up. That starts with with individual action.
    Keep asking one question: “What do you plan to do for the worker?” The answer to that question, if the answerer gives specifics, is the only answer we need.

  • cosmopolite

    Tax all value added by business, government wages, interest on govt.
    debt, and cash govt. benefits at some flat rate around 30-35%. Value added
    would include the proceeds from asset sales, net of the cost of assets
    purchased. Credit the payroll taxes in full against flat tax
    liabilities. Pay every legal resident of the USA $500/month (this
    “demogrant” could be declined). Then abolish TANF, EIC, the child tax
    credit, standard deduction and personal exemptions. Reduce SSI by the
    amount of the demogrant. Keep food stamps, Medicaid and section 8 in
    some form. Only income payers (including the self-employed) would file
    tax returns. The demogrant would allow all to benefit from the return on
    capital, regardless of who owned any capital.
    The tax treatment of financial institutions, nonprofits and pensions involve complications that would take me too far afield.
    This tax would be highly progressive, would vastly improve incentives to invest, and would yield huge reductions in administrative and compliance costs.

  • cosmopolite

    Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Anthony Fisher are possible villains in this conspiracy theory. Hayek is not. He did not attack the welfare state, and explicitly distanced himself from English speaking radical conservatives. Only one book by Hayek has been widely read by lay people, his 1944 Road to Serfdom, whose argument was that the Nazi movement was indeed socialist, and that socialism was not at all necessarily progressive. The Constitution of Liberty is only read by scholars and highly intellectual libertarians.