Tuesday, September 22, 2015

On "Bulletproof Neoliberalism"

Was reading something interesting in Jacobin Magazine recently, called "Bulletproof Neoliberalism." It tries to answer just why is it that despite failing utterly to bring a new era of full employment, productive investment and human freedom and happiness, and, instead, bringing an era of financial market collapse, gargantuan corruption and inhuman austerity, that neoliberalism still rules the roost ideologiically speaking.
What is going to come after neoliberalism?” It was the question on many radicals’ lips, present writer included, after the financial crisis hit in 2008. Though few were so sanguine about our prospects as to repeat the suicidal optimism of previous radical movements (“After Hitler, Our Turn!”), the feeling of the day was that the era of unfettered marketization was coming to a close. A new period of what was loosely referred to as Keynesianism would be the inevitable result of a crisis caused by markets run amok.Five years later, little has changed. What comes after neoliberalism? More neoliberalism, apparently. The prospects for a revived Left capable of confronting it appear grim.
Me-me thinks it's a good question. The article deals with one Philip Mirowski's attempts to solve the puzzle. In his book  Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown he deals with three issues: Neoliberalism's manipulation of ideas, the ways that our lives (and minds) have been shaped by immersion in neoliberalism, and the faulty analyses and tactics of the leftist opposition to it.

Apparently Mirowski says that left-wing analysis fails when it believes that neolibealism is about shrinking government. Neoliberalism is all about only shrinking SOME parts of government (the one's that protect us from the shocks of whatever rigged-version of capitalism we're living under) and very open about how the coercive aspects of the state and the functions of the state that protect the powerful are increased.

This is true. Just look at Thatcher in England, or Reagan, or any of those people. Look at the massive printing of money for bank bail-outs and stock-market fluffing of "Quantitative Easing."

With regards to our daily lives ...
At the same time as neoliberal commonsense trickles down from above, Mirowski argues that it also wells up from below, reinforced by our daily patterns of life. Social networking sites like Facebook encourage people to view themselves as perpetual cultural entrepreneurs, striving to offer a newer and better version of themselves to the world. Sites like LinkedIn prod their users to present themselves as a fungible basket of skills, adjustable to the needs of any employer, without any essential characteristics beyond a requisite subservience. Classical liberalism always assumes the coherent individual self as its basic unit. Neoliberalism, by contrast, sees people as little more than variable bundles of human capital, with no permanent interests or even attributes that cannot be remade through the market. For Mirowski, the proliferation of these forms of everyday neoliberalism constitute a “major reason the neoliberals have emerged from the crisis triumphant.”
This is very persuasive. We have very much become prostitutes to capitalism. (I've been saying for a while, that we need to come up with a word that conveys what "prostitute" and "whore" are supposed to mean but without demeaning sex-workers who might not feel that they're disgracing themselves.)

One of the other neat tricks of capitalism and the neoliberal version of it, is that all of its disasters are treated by its promoters as naturally occurring "corrections" that are the inevitable result of "market forces" and "creative destruction." But anything untoward that is a result of state planning and actions is an avoidable catastrophe. Proof that the state cannot intervene in the economy without ultimately destroying us all. "The state can't pick winners." Except for the example of Japan. "Tariffs impoverish everyone." Except the USA, Germany, Canada, ... all developed behind tariff protection. "Minimum wages cause unemployment." Except that they don't. "Tax-cuts spur investment." Except that they haven't.

Etc., etc.

It's also human nature. We on the left feel that our leftist parties lose when they water-down their progressive policies either to get elected, or, when they get elected and become overwhelmed with the power realities of governing. (Something radical leftists are also guilty of is discounting power realities.) Or else we think that we're being sabotaged by capitalists going "on strike." (Which sometimes happens. See "power realities" above.)

Look at how the insane right-wingers shamelessly try to spin how US invasions and meddling in the Arab World have been successes, except for the sabotage of Democrats, or incompetent Republicans, or (somehow) the peace movement, or whoever. (This is discounting the very real possibility that the goal of the US foreign policy elites is that the Middle East should be a disaster; thereby justifying the military-industrial complex as well as nullifying the abilities of independent-minded Arab leaders like Qaddafi, Assad, Saddam to challenge US hegemony.)

It's the same thing with their ass-hat economic policies of corruption, theft, crises and austerity. Even though the financial elites have done very well from their policies of corruption, crisis bail-outs and austerity for everyone else, the fact of the matter is that they're ruinous in the long-run. But just like all of us live our lives hoping against hope that "It's going to be alright," so to, do elites. And they have more reason to delude themselves about this than we do; what with their fine clothes, fine houses, enormous bank accounts, and the serenity of being in beautiful places enjoying beautiful things all the time.

I was going to say something about genuine successes and falures of the neoliberals and their opponents, but I've started and stopped this thing so many times that I've lost interest.


zoombats said...

The way I see it nothing changes really. We just tend to call our situation by a different name. Feudalism and serfdom are alive and well, we just don't recognize them for all the smoke and mirrors and other forms of spin. We tend to think that we are all so much smarter with our Twitter this and Facebook that. Smarter? Really? I might mention Thwap, that we have found alternative words for prostitutes and whores. Bankers and lawyers. They are the driving force of greed and the courtesans to the Lords and Masters. The drones will always be preoccupied with survival and keeping up with paying their bushel of wheat to the feudal lords who keep them down. I have a finely turned sense of cynicism that I have honed over my sixty two years on this good earth and travelled extensively and from where I sit I am hard pressed to see much of a difference in a lot of other places. We just dress differently and drive cars around. "A cynic is a man who when he smells flowers, he looks around for a coffin" H.R. Menken. Just had to throw that in for a laugh.

thwap said...


I read a quite excellent book on Greek democracy, self-published by a guy with a pseudonym. It's on my bookshelves somewhere.

but he did an excellent job of showing how we live in a new system of feudalism.

I have to ask; who are the bankers and lawyers whoring themselves out to?