L e v e l - 7

Tools For A New Political Economy

Why are the Tea Party, market fundamentalism and the “neoliberal agenda” such a problem?

(Excerpts from Blurts & Spasms blog; see also the broader discussion of capitalism)

As an overview, it is important to recognize that neoliberalism has many different - sometimes even competing - mechanisms to actualize strategic neoliberal objectives. Therefore, so as not to get bogged down in the subtle differences between its various tactical approaches, it is helpful to focus on those objectives. If we examine the
observable outcomes of any particular policy, candidate, political platform, etc., then we can more clearly identify its neoliberal origins.

In the following paragraphs we will cover:
  • Primary Objectives of Neoliberalism
  • Who are the Champions of Neoliberalism?
  • Common Neoliberal Propaganda Tactics
  • Examples of Success of Neoliberal Agenda
  • How “Libertarianism” was Co-Opted by Neoliberals in U.S.A.

Neoliberalism’s primary objectives include the following:

1. Weakening of governments and legal systems to allow businesses to exploit labor and resources without regulatory controls or other constraints of law, with the aim of decreasing production costs, reducing legal liabilities and potential tort exposure, and facilitating unfettered capital mobility (across national borders, etc.). This ensures access to cheap, pliable labor, the carefree destruction and depletion of natural resources, and freedom from consequences for heinous disregard for human welfare and the natural world.

2. The dismantling and privatization of all social safety nets and socialized infrastructure — while at the same time disenfranchising poor and minority voters — so that the poor and marginalized become dependent on low-wage jobs and cannot afford the educational, investment or entrepreneurial opportunities to change their social position…or often even the basic necessities for survival. This allows the “owner-shareholder" class (traditionally older white men) to maintain their position of privilege in society, remove more and more services and civic infrastructure out of democratic control, and again exploit an endless pool of cheap, pliable labor while exhausting or destroying resources of the natural world.

3. Controlling capital flows by any means possible, including monopolization (transnational megaconglomerates) and interlocking directorates among the highest-revenue sectors of the global economy, increasing direct influence over international banking, expanding regulatory capture within national governments, increased militarism and war profiteering, and privatization and debt-enslavement of developing economies at a national level (IMF, World Bank, Eurogroup).

4. The disguising of items #1-3 as "improving market and production efficiencies," “lifting the world out of poverty,” “letting markets solve complex problems,” or promoting "individual choice, individual liberty, and individual responsibility," when in reality the strategic neoliberal agenda only promotes such liberty and wealth for the plutocrats themselves, with efficiency improvements and market solutions benefitting the industries and capital they control…while creating ever greater social, political and economic inequities for the rest of society.

5. Endless propagandizing and spin around item #4 (a la Fox News, The National Review, Sinclair Broadcast Group, One America News Network, conservative talk shows, Breitbart, InfoWars, FrontPage, conservative think tanks, etc.) in the language of market fundamentalism, paired with dark money manipulation of the election process, as well as influencing legislative agendas and judicial appointments. This often aims to manipulate the worker-consumer class to vote against its own best interests — and leads to ideologically compliant legislators and judges likewise passing and enforcing facilitative laws — so that neoliberal plutocrats can take democratic power, rights and privileges away from everyone else with increasing ease.

6. Expanding the reach, capacities and “lawful” responsibilities of the national military, court system and local law enforcement to a) wage perpetual “war” on anyone perceived as a threat to neoliberal domestic and international objectives; b) villainize, suppress, coerce or incarcerate anyone who intends to disrupt aspects of the status quo that are beneficial to the neoliberal agenda; c) create perpetual distractions and scapegoats for the media to feed upon, so that “the man behind the curtain” (i.e. the neoliberal themselves) remains unnoticed or appears disconnected from the social and structural problems that neoliberalism creates.

And what is the overarching theme of these objectives? I think the last fifty years has proven it to be clear:

To funnel as much capital as possible - and as much control over capital as possible - into the hands of those who already have the greatest abundance of capital. It is, essentially, the self-protective ideology of plutocrats.

(Please also consult this Quora discussion regarding additional neoliberal strategies and influence:
Do the "virtual parliaments" as Noam Chomsky describes them actually exist?)

Who are the champions of neoliberalism?

When we see proposals, advocacy, media, research or statistics sourced from any of the following organizations, we often find they are being used to support of neoliberal agenda:

  • Atlantic Bridge
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Cato Institute
  • American Enterprise Institute
  • Business Roundtable
  • Analysis Research Corporation
  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
  • State Policy Network (SPN - formerly Madison Group)
  • Heartland Institute
  • Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy
  • Judicial Watch
  • Federalist Society
  • Claremont Institute
  • Americans for Prosperity
  • Institute for Justice
  • Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
  • Americans for Tax Reform
  • Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives
  • Center for Individual Rights
  • Pacific Legal Foundation
  • Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI)
  • National Association of Scholars
  • Hudson Institute
  • Mises Institute
  • Bradley Foundation

Of critical importance is understanding just how much money is involved in promoting the neoliberal agenda. Although there are also progressive-leaning special interest groups, think tanks, lobbyists, etc., they are much more diffused and tend to promote more specialized interests. In contrast, nearly all of the organizations above are marching to the exact same drum. So much so that, on any given issue, neoliberal advocates outspend progressives anywhere from 10:1 to 100:1. Although much attention is given to key neoliberal players like the
Koch brothers and the Mercer family, the reality is that the funds brought to bear are a carefully coordinated aggregate of hundreds of conservative millionaires and billionaires.

As for the thought leaders, advocates and political champions most frequently referenced by neoliberals, that is also a fairly vast array, and with many subtle differences. However, we can include the following in the mix of influential thinkers and advocates (some of whom are also discussed in further detail later in this page):

  • Milton Friedman, Eugene Fama, Robert Fogel, George Stigler and the Chicago School
  • Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger’s students, “The Chicago Boys”
  • Ayn Rand
  • Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian School
  • Robert Nozick
  • Highly selective excerpts of Adam Smith (for example, there is rarely any mention of Smith’s concerns about the corrosive power of monopolies, or his warnings to rein in the vile maxim of the masters of mankind: all for ourselves and nothing for other people)
  • Lewis Powell
  • Joseph Coors, Edwin Meese III and Thomas Roe
  • Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan
  • Charles and David Koch
  • Robert Mercer
  • James Buchanon
  • Newt Gingrich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle, Antonin Scalia, Danielle Pletka
  • Bill Clinton (nominally a neoliberal in socially liberal clothing)
  • Karl Rove
  • Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld
  • Ron Paul and Paul Ryan (as examples of neoliberals in right-libertarian clothing - see further discussion below)
  • Greg Mankiw (example of neoliberal evangelist in academia)
  • Steve Bannon and Donald Trump (offering new variations on many neoliberal themes - concealing the neoliberal agenda beneath a manipulative veneer of populism and conspiracy theories, while appointing members of the Heritage Foundation, etc. to key positions in their administration.)

Common neoliberal propaganda tactics

Neoliberal propaganda tends to combine potent tribalistic, class conscious, sociological and economic components, including:

  • Arguing that “safeguarding and expanding individual freedom” is somehow equivalent to unregulated markets and business activities, eliminating all social safety nets, ever-enlarging private property rights, and aggressively rolling back taxes - while in fact the only beneficiaries of such laissez-faire political activism are the wealthiest corporate owner-shareholders.
  • Propagating fictional narratives that invert the traditional views of exploitation and victimization, then funding highly biased “research” by neoliberal think tanks which seems to support the narrative. Examples of such inversions include white people in the U.S. being victimized by “institutionalized reverse racism” due to civil rights laws; or that the wealthy are being exploited by poor people who feel “entitled” to wealthy people’s money via social welfare programs; or that Christians are being persecuted and oppressed by a secular State; or that corporations are “people” with human rights, and that corporate money equals protected free speech; or that democracy is a form of “mob rule” that oppresses the elite minority; and so on.
  • Coopting traditional socially conservative themes to serve neoliberal aims — themes such as anti-abortion, fear-mongering around racial stereotypes, demonization of “liberals” and progressive civic institutions, pro-Judeo-Christian rhetoric, anti-immigrant and racial prejudice, and resistance to change.
  • Populist, nationalistic sentiments that amplify “Us vs. Them” polemics — insisting that 2nd Amendment rights, Constitutional originalism, State’s rights, pro-military loyalism, religious freedoms, etc. are opposed, and are going to be “taken away,” by progressive ideals and champions.
  • Diversion of blame for economic hardship and cultural frustration for its most supportive constituencies away from the real causes (i.e. neoliberal/market fundamentalist economic policies) to convenient red herring distractions — climate change denial, abuses and inefficiencies of social safety nets, anti-intellectualism, skepticism of science, the failures of government bureaucracy, national security and terrorism fears, Islamophobia, patriotic duty, breakdown of the nuclear family, atheism, and other boogeymen.
  • Advocating potent neoliberal concepts as “always true or always successful,” when in fact they are either substantially false, or routinely fail. These include Supply Side economics; market fundamentalism; austerity measures; capitalist systems being “morally neutral;” capitalism being the natural state of human beings (and private property being a “natural right”); regulations and taxes always being counterproductive; wealth production always being more important than negative externalities; “greed is good;” government always being wasteful and inefficient; the best innovation always being provided via market competition; etc.
  • Perpetuation of an enthralling, distracting and infantilizing spectacle to facilitate a neoliberal agenda.
  • Systematically attacking and defunding any civic institutions or public programs that reinforce positive feelings about government, or which effectively help citizens regardless of their means or influence. Thus the US Postal Service, Medicare, Head Start, Obamacare, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, FHA Loan programs, Food & Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control, Financial Aid for Students and a host of other beneficial services must be enfeebled, bad-mouthed and disrupted as quickly as possible to prevent them generating any warm fuzzy feelings toward government among the populace.
  • Aggressive demonization of every individual or collective form of power, influence or agency that disrupts or delays the neoliberal agenda — and especially anything smacking of “progressive” or left-leaning ideology. This includes all forms of direct democracy; all forms of representative government; the institutions and lawful mechanisms of civil society itself that protect civil rights, human rights, consumer protections, and worker protections; any scientific evidence that interferes with profit; a free press; accurate and truthful information in the public discourse and news media; accurate and truthful information in the education system; and any individuals or institutions that promote critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making.
  • Interestingly, within the past few years, neoliberal pundits have increasingly also been trying to negate the term “neoliberal” itself — claiming it to be overly broad, or somehow contradictory, or otherwise unsuited to defining the specific flavor of market fundamentalist crony capitalism that neoliberals tend to promote. This attack on the language of neoliberalism’s critics is, I think, just one more way to discredit or undermine what have clearly been valid critiques.

Philosophically, I consider neoliberal capitalism to be the natural intersection of commercialist-imperialist corporatism and individualistic economic materialism, and the proud grandchild of feudalism and mercantilism, as all of these propaganda points seem to flow out of these antiquated ideological positions.

Examples of the success of the neoliberal agenda in the U.S.A. under the G.W. Bush administration include the following:

1. Disabling the EPA’s enforcement of environmental law for eight years (via direct executive order and more indirect hogtying of administrative processes) allowed runaway corporate pollution and untold environmental damage from business activities.

2. Weakening of NIOSH oversight across all industries resulted in a runaway increase of risk to worker health and safety - and consequent death, illness and disability of countless workers as regulations went unenforced.

3. Opening up of BLM lands to unchecked exploitation by industry resulted in horrific destruction and misuse of these public resources, with very little benefit to U.S. taxpayers (who collectively own those resources).

4. Initiating a war on false pretenses resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people - including thousands of U.S. military personnel; war profiteering of U.S. companies at the expense of U.S. taxpayers; creation of ISIS (under very similar circumstances through which Al-Qaeda was formed); destabilization of Middle East and radicalization of its populations; strengthening of the position and influence of enemy states (Iran); undermining of U.S. standing among allied governments and populace.

5. Increased financialization of U.S. economy (and encouragement of speculative risks using public funds) while loosening the regulatory reigns (SEC oversight, etc.), resulting in the most precipitous economic crash since 1929.

6. Orchestrating propaganda that encouraged some 50% of the U.S. electorate to vote against its own interests (i.e. cutting of federal spending in their geographic regions, increased income inequality, increased poverty, decreased economic mobility, decreased jobs, stagnant wages, decreased buying power, etc.).

7. As a classic consequence of crony capitalism, the largest jump in government spending (to 33% of GDP, with most of the increase benefitting big business and wealthy shareholders) since WWII.

8. The radical erosion of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment and establishment of invasive, coercive, unjust, punitive and ideologically extreme expansions of a Police State.

9. The dismantling and distortion of U.S. democratic institutions, civilian protections and environmental protections through a targeted appointment of activist neoliberal judiciary that baldly favors corporate enrichment at the expense of everyone and everything else (Citizens United is just the tip of the iceberg).

10. The subsidizing of below-subsistence wage workers (Walmart) with taxpayer-funded welfare programs, once again enriching corporations at the expense of everyone else.

11. A general weakening of all capacities of government to serve its citizens, apparently with the deliberate aim of undermining the confidence those citizens have in their government and increase their willingness to vote for candidates who promise lower taxes and alternative “free market” solutions that enrich owner-shareholders.

To fully appreciate just how bad things can get under neoliberal ideology, consider reading about Milton Friedman’s influence on other governments around the globe (a readable discussion of this is Naomi Klein’s
The Shock Doctrine) and the “structural adjustment” policies of the IMF and World Bank in developing countries - also informed by “The Chicago Boys.” For more on all the fun stuff that happened under G.W.Bush, focus on pro-corporate SCOTUS rulings, expansion of A.L.E.C. legislative influence, the revolving door of government, regulatory capture, clientism, campaign finance corruption and the explosion of SuperPACs and dark money, corporate welfare, war profiteering, Red State government spending, origins of ISIS, coal mining safety violations, timber industry expansions into BLM, coopting of Tea Party by Koch brothers, impact of Patriot Act and Homeland Security on U.S. civil liberties, environmental destruction and exploitation, wealth disparity, FEMA failures (due to incompetent appointments), the USPS retirement prefunding fiasco of 2006, etc. It’s really rather incredible how much damage was done, and why voting carefully in presidential and congressional elections is much more important than naysayers from all corners of the political spectrum would have us believe.

How has (Tea Party) Libertarianism become conflated with or gobbled up by anarcho-capitalism and laissez-faire capitalism in the U.S.A.?

This is a great question and the answer is relatively simple (in hindsight at least). Basically the capture of libertarianism by pro-capitalist fanatics in the U.S.A. resulted from the intersection (and resulting muddled conflation) of several distinct ideological threads that were carefully crafted into a “populist” movement over time:

1. Locke’s views on natural rights and property ownership.

2. Jefferson’s advocacy of small government.

3. A strong tradition of American individualism (Emerson, Tucker) and economic materialism (Veblen’s
conspicuous consumption).

4. The Austrian School and the reworking of classical liberalism by Mises, Hayek, etc.

5. Milton Friedman and the Chicago School.

6. The objectivism of Ayn Rand.

7. Murray Rothbard’s authoritative expansion of non-aggression into property.

8. Robert Nozick’s countering of John Rawls.

9. The modern architects and proponents of neoliberalism (see discussion in previous sections).

From Locke we obtain the assertion that humanity’s natural state - and corresponding natural law - centers around a self-preservation and non-interference in the affairs of others, and a property ownership and accumulation via labor appropriation. From Jefferson we have the famously mis-attributed “that government is best which governs least,” which isn’t actually Jefferson, but does seem to encapsulate important Jeffersonian sentiments. From Tucker we have a strong infusion of egoistic nihilism and the seeds of mistakenly equating “freedom” with atomistic personal agency. From Mises and Hayek we glean a hatred of egalitarian and collectivist thinking that interferes with market capitalism in any way, a devoted (albeit irrational and non-empirical) promotion of individual choice as the sole driver of all sound economics, and an obsession with systemic efficiencies. From Milton Friedman we garner a lifelong propaganda and lobbying campaign to rid America of all Keynsian government intervention in corporate profiteering, a global advancement of the concept of “economic freedom” that facilitates the same, and perhaps the very birth of a faux “populist” libertarianism that he and his pal Stigler engineered.

From Ayn Rand we get a passionate defense of atomistic individualism, vaulted egotism and rapacious materialism. From Rothbard we have a zealously religious conviction that property is an extension of one’s person, and that the non-aggression principle thus applies to all property as an unquestionable article of faith. Nozick then provided an eloquent and extensive libertarian argument for a minimal State, whose main purpose should be to facilitate free exchange between individuals, and an equally eloquent argument regarding why taxation of any kind equates slavery (i.e. is a violation of self-ownership). Others along the way, such as Robert Paul Wolff, amplified radical autonomy and the “rationality” of market solutions. Seizing on this snowballing tangle of individualistic materialism, modern neoliberal architects then created a scripted perpetuation of all-of-the-above in vaunted, self-righteous rhetoric - with folks like Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Steve Bannon and Donald Trump gaining actual positions of power; folks like the Koch brothers and Mercer family funding political influence, campaigns and neoliberal propaganda behind the scenes; and lobbying groups like ALEC and SPN orchestrating pro-corporate agendas across federal and state legislatures.

Mix all of these ingredients together, and the result is a uniquely American “right-libertarianism” or “anarcho-capitalism” that appears to be populist in nature, but is actually consciously engineered and propagated to facilitate ever-increasing consolidation of corporate power. Some have even labeled this thread of American libertarian thought
proprietarianism, and point out the irony that proprietarians will decry the oppressive coercion of the State, but reflexively ignore the same behaviors in corporations as they rabidly promote market fundamentalism.

To reiterate, all of this “populist libertarianism” is really picking-and-choosing supportive aspects of past ideas, according to a distinctly individualistic and materialistic worldview, to facilitate corporate power within cronyist, clientist State capitalism
even as it decries the “coercive force” of the State. It is really no different than a particular denomination of some religion selectively excerpting scriptures to support their particular dogma. If we revisit Locke, for example, we see that his “natural law” includes the duty to preserve and protect others, be charitable to those in need, and praise and honor God - but we don’t find these particular components in right-libertarian thinking. Jefferson warned against an aristocracy of bankers, merchants and manufacturers gaining too much power - though often misquoted (and thereby often incurring dismissal), this sentiment is as prevalent in Jefferson’s writing as it is neglected by right-libertarians. Tucker was vociferously opposed to rent-seeking (which he called “usury”) and the Four Monopolies of money, land, tariffs and patents. If we examine Milton Friedman’s vociferous and successful advocacy of monetarism, together with his equally hypocritical promotion of “shock doctrine” corporatism, we see his clear preference for using powerful government institutions and leadership, in concert with private monopolies, to coercively force national economies to align with his vaunted ideals - a glaring contradiction to many of his professed beliefs, and also an aspect of Friedman’s legacy that is overlooked in right-libertarian thinking.

Ayn Rand of course completely rejected “anarcho-capitalism” as non-representative of objectivist thinking - also something few right-libertarians appreciate (in fact the Mises Institute has had a real fondness for quoting her). Nozick was ultimately critical of Lockean acquisition, and concluded that the non-aggression principle and unfettered markets logically result in both corporate monopolies and contractual slavery (which he saw as a productive outcome, paralleling the functions of a Welfare State…but, amazingly, somehow to be arrived at voluntarily, without coercion…
despite the fact that freedom is thereby crippled by both odious obligation and extinguished choice!). And of course the propaganda of modern champions of “smaller government” has been persistently contradicted by their actions - Reagan’s increases in both federal taxation and spending, Cheney’s war profiteering, Paul Ryan’s never-ending campaign to eliminate women’s reproductive rights, the Koch brothers enriching themselves through government manipulation, etc. And although right-libertarians do sense some of these contradictions, rather ironically they just can’t seem to let go of conformist ideological groupthink, and continue to swallow the plutocrats’ “Libertarian” propaganda that really just ends up empowering wealthy corporate shareholders at the expense of workers, consumers, voters, women, those living in poverty, the sick, the elderly, the environment…and most of the Tea Party rank-and-file.

Lastly, I’ll briefly touch on some core issues with right-libertarianism that illustrate a problematic departure from non-American forms of libertarian thought:

  • Apart from everyone living in individual isolation, liberty only exists in the context of civil society. There must be social agreement about the standards of liberty for it to function in routine human relations - let alone in a heavily abstracted exchange economy. This is a simple fact that could be countered by an expectation of advanced moral function (i.e. transcending self-interest), but individualistic materialism (especially as manifested in modern commercialism) has so far encouraged a lowest-common-denominator approach to moral function - a toddlerization of moral faculties. In this respect, capitalism is fundamentally at odds with the libertarian frame.

  • Right-libertarians most often address this issue by relying on individuals as “rational actors” who create mutually beneficial outcomes by promoting their own best interests in competition with others. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this has ever been the case in the real world, and plentiful evidence (in behavioral economics research, the history of corporate malfeasance, and the latest neuropsychology) to contradict it - which is why the Austrian School is still the laughing stock of mainstream economists, and why Ayn Rand’s “objective” understanding of human behavior has been viewed as muddled, naive and woefully incomplete by decades of philosophers and psychologists.

  • Further along these same lines, we cannot differentiate economic equality from equality of liberty (i.e. from individual or collective agency). To do so is intellectually dishonest - because concentrations of wealth always result in concentrations of influence and/or formalized political power. There is simply no precedent for real-world situations unfolding differently (whether government is involved or not). Because of this, liberty is always negatively impacted by economic inequality, which becomes de facto coercion. This is an inescapable truth, and is perhaps best illustrated both the consequences of natural monopolies throughout history, and by Nozick’s theoretical elaboration on the inevitability of “voluntary slavery” in laissez-faire environments.

  • The Lockean projection of person into property (via labor or any other activity) is not only arbitrary and capricious, but also isn’t a standard evidenced by hunter-gatherer societies as Locke assumed and in fact used to support his hypothesis. In reality, the opposite is true: hunter-gatherer societies have routinely held almost everything in common (when things are treated as property at all).

  • In the same vein, the tragedy of the commons is simply a thought experiment gone awry. As Elinor Ostrom carefully documented over years of research, Common Pool Resource Management has been a spontaneous, organic, self-directed alternative to State or private ownership that functions exceedingly well.

  • The aristocracy disruptive to democracy that Jefferson foresaw has occurred, not just because corporations were empowered by the State (cronyism/clientism/corporatism), but because concentrations of wealth inherently create concentrations of power. All the way back to Aristotle this has been a central concern in any democracy, and the demonstrations of plutocratic corrosion throughout history are indisputable. The most tenable left-libertarian solutions therefore operationalize collectivist, egalitarian approaches facilitated by consensus democracy, the principle of subsidiarity, and the attenuation of private property in favor of the commons. There really isn’t another way around this problem - certainly not anything proposed by right-libertarians.

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