Neoliberalism Tells Us We’re Selfish Souls – How Can We Promote Other Identities?

Lambert here: Not sure the soul is an identity, but authors don’t write the headlines. Read on!

By Christine Berry, a freelance researcher and writer and was previously Director of Policy and Government for the New Economics Foundation. She has also worked at ShareAction and in the House of Commons. Originally published at Open Democracy.

“Economics is the method: the object is to change the soul.” Understanding why Thatcher said this is central to understanding the neoliberal project, and how we might move beyond it. Carys Hughes and Jim Cranshaw’s opening article poses a crucial challenge to the left in this respect. It is too easy to tell ourselves a story about the long reign of neoliberalism that is peopled solely with all-powerful elites imposing their will on the oppressed masses. It is much harder to confront seriously the ways in which neoliberalism has manufactured popular consent for its policies.

The left needs to acknowledge that aspects of the neoliberal agenda have been overwhelmingly popular: it has successfully tapped into people’s instincts about the kind of life they want to lead, and wrapped these instincts up in a compelling narrative about how we should see ourselves and other people. We need a coherent strategy for replacing this narrative with one that actively reconstructs our collective self-image – turning us into empowered citizens participating in communities of mutual care, rather than selfish property-owning individuals competing in markets.

As the Gramscian theorists Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau observed, our political identities are not a ‘given’ – something that emerges directly from the objective facts of our situation. We all occupy a series of overlapping identities in our day-to-day lives – as workers or bosses, renters or home-owners, debtors or creditors. Which of these define our politics depends on political struggles for meaning and power.

Part of the job of politics – whether within political parties or social movements – is to show how our individual problems are rooted in systemic issues that can be confronted collectively if we organise around these identities. Thus, debt becomes not a source of shame but an injustice that debtors can organise against. Struggles with childcare are not a source of individual parental guilt but a shared societal problem that we have a shared responsibility to tackle. Podemos were deeply influenced by this thinking when they sought to redefine Spanish politics as ‘La Casta’ (‘the elite’) versus the people, cutting across many of the traditional boundaries between right and left.

The architects of neoliberalism understood this process of identity creation. By treating people as selfish, rational utility maximisers, they actively encouraged them to become selfish, rational utility maximisers. As the opening article points out, this is not a side effect of neoliberal policy, but a central part of its intention. As Michael Sandel pointed out in his 2012 book ‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets’, it squeezes out competing values that previously governed non-market spheres of life, such as ethics of public service in the public sector, or mutual care within local communities. But these values remain latent: neoliberalism does not have the power to erase them completely. This is where the hope for the left lies, the crack of light through the doorway that needs to be prised open.

The Limits of Neoliberal Consciousness

In thinking about how we do this, it’s instructive to look at the ways in which neoliberal attempts to reshape our identities have succeeded – and the ways they have failed. While Right to Buy might have been successful in identifying people as home-owners and stigmatising social housing, this has not bled through into wider support for private ownership. Although public ownership did become taboo among the political classes for a generation – far outside the political ‘common sense’ – polls consistently showed that this was not matched by a fall in public support for the idea. On some level – perhaps because of the poor performance of privatised entities – people continued to identify as citizens with a right to public services, rather than as consumers of privatised services. The continued overwhelming attachment to a public NHS is the epitome of this tendency. This is partly what made it possible for Corbyn’s Labour to rehabilitate the concept of public ownership, as the 2017 Labour manifesto’s proposals for public ownership of railways and water – dismissed as ludicrous by the political establishment – proved overwhelmingly popular.

More generally, there is some evidence that neoliberalism didn’t really succeed in making us see ourselves as selfish rational maximisers – just in making us believe that everybody else was. For example, a 2016 survey found that UK citizens are on average more oriented towards compassionate values than selfish values, but that they perceive others to be significantly more selfish (both than themselves and the actual UK average). Strikingly, those with a high ‘self-society gap’ were found to be less likely to vote and engage in civic activity, and highly likely to experience feelings of cultural estrangement.

This finding points towards both the great conjuring trick of neoliberal subjectivity and its Achilles heel: it has successfully popularised an idea of what human beings are like that most of us don’t actually identify with ourselves. This research suggests that our political crisis is caused not only by people’s material conditions of disempowerment, but by four decades of being told that we can’t trust our fellow citizens. But it also suggests that deep down, we know this pessimistic account of human nature just isn’t who we really are – or who we aspire to be.

An example of how this plays out can be seen in academic studies showing that, in game scenarios presenting the opportunity to free-ride on the efforts of others, only economics students behaved as economic models predicted: all other groups were much more likely to pool their resources. Having been trained to believe that others are likely to be selfish, economists believe that their best course of action is to be selfish as well. The rest of us still have the instinct to cooperate. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising: after all, as George Monbiot argues in ‘Out of the Wreckage’, cooperation is our species’ main survival strategy.

What’s Our ‘Right to Buy?’

The challenge for the left is to find policies and stories that tap into this latent sense of what makes us human – what Gramsci called ‘good sense’ – and use it to overturn the neoliberal ‘common sense’. In doing so, we must be aware that we are competing not only with a neoliberal identity but also with a new far-right that seeks to promote a white British ethno-nationalist group identity, conflating ‘elites’ with outsiders. How we compete with this is the million dollar question, and it’s one we have not yet answered.

Thatcher’s use of flagship policies like the Right to Buy was a masterclass in this respect. Deceptively simple, tangible and easy to grasp, the Right to Buy also communicated a much deeper story about the kind of nation we wanted to be – one of private, property-owning individuals – cementing home-ownership as a cultural symbol of aspiration (the right to paint your own front door) whilst giving millions an immediate financial stake in her new order. So what might be the equivalent flagship policies for the left today?

Perhaps one of the strongest efforts to date has been the proposal for ‘Inclusive Ownership Funds’, first developed by Mathew Lawrence in a report for the New Economics Foundation, and announced as Labour policy by John McDonnell in 2018. This would require companies to transfer shares into a fund giving their workers a collective stake that rises over time and pays out employee dividends. Like the Right to Buy, as well as shifting the material distribution of wealth and power, this aims to build our identity as part of a community of workers taking more collective control over our working lives.

But this idea only takes us so far. While it may tap into people’s desire for more security and empowerment at work, more of a stake in what they do, it offers a fairly abstract benefit that only cashes out over time, as workers acquire enough of a stake to have a meaningful say over company strategy. It may not mean much to those at the sharpest end of our oppressive and precarious labour market, at least not unless we also tackle the more pressing concerns they face – such as the exploitative practices of behemoths like Amazon or the stress caused by zero-hours contracts. We have not yet hit on an idea that can compete with the transformative change to people’s lives offered by the Right to Buy.

So what else is on the table? Perhaps, when it comes to the cutting edge of new left thinking on these issues, the workplace isn’t really where the action is – at least not directly. Perhaps we need to be tapping into people’s desire to escape the ‘rat race’ altogether and have more freedom to pursue the things that really make us happy – time with our families, access to nature, the space to look after ourselves, connection with our communities. The four day working week (crucially with no loss of pay) has real potential as a flagship policy in this respect. The Conservatives and the right-wing press may be laughing it down with jokes about Labour being lazy and feckless, but perhaps this is because they are rattled. Ultimately, they can’t escape the fact that most people would like to spend less time at work.

Skilfully communicated, this has the potential to be a profoundly anti-neoliberal policy that conveys a new story about what we aspire to, individually and as a society. Where neoliberalism tapped into people’s desire for more personal freedom and hooked this to the acquisition of wealth, property and consumer choice, we can refocus on the freedom to live the lives we truly want. Instead of offering freedom through the market, we can offer freedom from the market.

Proponents of Universal Basic Income often argue that it fulfils a similar function of liberating people from work and detaching our ability to provide for ourselves from the marketplace for labour. But in material terms, it’s unlikely that a UBI could be set at a level that would genuinely offer people this freedom, at least in the short term. And in narrative terms, UBI is actually a highly malleable policy that is equally susceptible to being co-opted by a libertarian agenda. Even at its best, it is really a policy about redistribution of already existing wealth (albeit on a bigger scale than the welfare state as it stands). To truly overturn neoliberalism, we need to go beyond this and talk about collective ownership and creation of wealth.

Policies that focus on collective control of assets may do a better job of replacing a narrative about individual property ownership with one that highlights the actual concentration of property wealth in the hands of elites – and the need to reclaim these assets for the common good. As well as Inclusive Ownership Funds, another way of doing this is through Citizens’ Wealth Funds, which socialise profitable assets (be it natural resources or intangible ones such as data) and use the proceeds to pay dividends to individuals or communities. Universal Basic Services – for instance, policies such as free publicly owned buses – may be another.

Finally, I’d like to make a plea for care work as a critical area that merits further attention to develop convincing flagship policies – be it on universal childcare, elderly care or support for unpaid carers. The instinctive attachment that many of us feel to a public NHS needs to be widened to promote a broader right to care and be cared for, whilst firmly resisting the marketisation of care. Although care is often marginalised in political debate, as a new mum, I’m acutely aware that it is fundamental to millions of people’s ability to live the lives they want. In an ageing population, most people now have lived experience of the pressures of caring for someone – whether a parent or a child. By talking about these issues, we move the terrain of political contestation away from the work valued by the market and onto the work we all know really matters; away from the competition for scarce resources and onto our ability to look after each other. And surely, that’s exactly where the left wants it to be.

This article forms part of the “Left governmentality” mini series for openDemocracy.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

68 comments

  1. Carolinian

    The problem is that people are selfish–me included–and so what is needed is not better ideas about ourselves but better laws. And for that we will need a higher level of political engagement and a refusal to accept candidates who sell themselves as a “lesser evil.” It’s the decline of democracy that brought on the rise of Reagan and Thatcher and Neoliberalism and not some change in public consciousness (except insofar as the general public became wealthier and more complacent). In America incumbents are almost universally likely to be re-elected to Congress and so they have no reason to reject Neoliberal ideas.

    So here’s suggesting that a functioning political process is the key to reform and not some change in the PR.

    Reply
    1. Angie Neer

      Carolinian, like you, I try to include myself in statements about “the problem with people.” I believe one of the things preventing progress is our tendency to believe it’s only those people that are the problem.

      Reply
    2. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      Human nature…people are selfish.

      It’s like the Christian marriage vow – which I understand is a Medieval invention and not something from 2,000 years ago – for better or worse, meaning, we share (and are not to be selfish) the good and the bad.

      “Not neoliberals, but all of us.”

      “Not the right, but the left as well.”

      “Not just Russia, but America,” or “Not just America, but Russia too.”

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        Perhaps a rational system is one that accepts selfishness but keeps it within limits. Movements like the Chicago school that pretend to reinvent the wheel with new thinking are by this view a scam. As J.K. Galbraith said: “the problem with their ideas is that they have been tried.”

        Reply
      2. The Rev Kev

        My small brain got stuck on your reference to a ‘Christian marriage vow’. I was just sitting back and conceiving what a Neoliberal marriage vow would sound like. Probably a cross between a no-liabilities contract and an open-marriage agreement.

        Reply
    3. Carey

      “people are selfish”?; or “people can sometimes act selfishly”? I think the latter is the more accurate statement. Appeal to the better side, and more of it will be forthcoming.
      Neolib propaganda appeals to trivial, bleak individualism..

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        I’m not sure historic left attempts to appeal to “the better angels of our nature” have really moved the ball much. It took the Great Depression to give us a New Deal and WW2 to give Britain the NHS and the India its freedom. I’d say events are in the saddle far more than ideas.

        Reply
        1. Mark Anderlik

          I rather look at it as a “both and” rather than an “either or.” If the political groundwork is not done beforehand and during, the opportunity events afford will more likely be squandered.

          And borrowing from evolutionary science, this also holds with the “punctuated equilibrium” theory of social/political change. The strain of a changed environment (caused by both events and intentionally created political activity) for a long time creates no visible change to the system, and so appears to fail. But then some combination of events and conscious political work suddenly “punctuates the equilibrium” with the resulting significant if not radical changes.

          Chile today can be seen as a great example of this: “Its not 30 Pesos, its 30 Years.”

          Reply
    4. J4Zonian

      Carolinian, you provide a good illustration of the power of the dominant paradigm to make people believe exactly what the article said–something I’ve observed more than enough to confirm is true. People act in a wide variety of ways; but many people deny that altruism and compassion are equally “human nature”. Both parts of the belief pointed out here–believing other people are selfish and that we’re not–are explained by projection acting in concert with the other parts of this phenomenon. Even though it’s flawed because it’s only a political and not a psychological explanation, It’s a good start toward understanding.

      “You and I are so deeply acculturated to the idea of “self” and organization and species that it is hard to believe that man [sic] might view his [sic] relations with the environment in any other way than the way which I have rather unfairly blamed upon the nineteenth-century evolutionists.”

      Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p 483-4
      This is part of a longer quote that’s been important to me my whole life. Worth looking up. Bateson called this a mistake in epistemology–also, informally, his definition of evil.
      http://anomalogue.com/blog/category/systems-thinking/

      “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
      ― Frédéric Bastiat

      Doesn’t mean it’s genetic. In fact, I’m pretty sure it means it’s not.

      Reply
  2. Capital fn 4

    The desire for justice is the constant.

    The Iron Lady once proclaimed, slightly sinisterly: “Economics is the method. The object is to change the soul.” She meant that British people had to rediscover the virtue of traditional values such as hard work and thrift. The “something for nothing” society was over.

    But the idea that the Thatcher era re-established the link between virtuous effort and just reward has been effectively destroyed by the spectacle of bankers driving their institutions into bankruptcy while being rewarded with million-pound bonuses and munificent pensions.

    The dual-truth approach of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (thanks, Mirowski) has been more adept at manipulating narratives so the masses are still outraged by individuals getting undeserved social benefits rather than elites vacuuming up common resources. Thanks to the Thatcher-Reagan revolution, we have ended up with socialism for the rich, and everyone else at the mercy of ‘markets’.

    Pretending that there are not problems with free riders is naive and it goes against people’s concern with justice. Acknowledging free riders on all levels with institutions that can constantly pursue equity is the solution.

    Reply
    1. Anarcissie

      At some points in life, everyone is a free rider. As for the hard workers, many of them are doing destructive things which the less hard-working people will have to suffer under and compensate for. (Neo)liberalism and capitalism are a coherent system of illusions of virtue which rest on domination, exploitation, extraction, and propaganda. Stoking of resentment (as of free riders, the poor, the losers, foreigners, and so on) is one of the ways those who enjoy it keep it going.

      Reply
  3. Capital fn. 4

    The desire for justice is the constant.

    The Iron Lady once proclaimed, slightly sinisterly: “Economics is the method. The object is to change the soul.” She meant that British people had to rediscover the virtue of traditional values such as hard work and thrift. The “something for nothing” society was over.

    But the idea that the Thatcher era re-established the link between virtuous effort and just reward has been effectively destroyed by the spectacle of bankers driving their institutions into bankruptcy while being rewarded with million-pound bonuses and munificent pensions.

    The dual-truth approach of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (thanks, Mirowski) has been more adept at manipulating narratives so the masses are still outraged by individuals getting undeserved social benefits rather than elites vacuuming up common resources. Thanks to the Thatcher-Reagan revolution, we have ended up with socialism for the rich, and everyone else at the mercy of ‘markets’.

    Pretending that there are not problems with free riders is naive and it goes against people’s concern with justice. Acknowledging free riders on all levels with institutions that can constantly pursue equity is the solution.

    Reply
    1. Synoia

      The Iron Lady had a agenda to break the labor movement in the UK.

      What she did not understand is Management gets the Union (Behavior) it deserves. If there is strife in the workplace, as there was in abundance in the UK at that time, the problem is the Management, (and the UK class structure) not the workers.

      As I found out when I left University.

      Thatcher set out to break the solidarity of the Labor movement, and used the neo-liberal tool of selfishness to achieve success, unfortunately,

      The UK’s poor management practices, (The Working Class can kiss my arse) and complete inability to form teams of “Management and Workers” was, IMHO, is the foundation of today’s Brexit nightmare, a foundation based on the British Class Structure.

      And exploited, as it ever was, to achieve ends which do not benefit workers in any manner.

      Reply
      1. scoff

        Written more than 20 years ago, I think this encapsulates the situation we face:

        I hear a voice that speaks of vanished dreams.
        The silence builds, a gulf to me it seems,
        between the given context and reality,
        but who can truly say what is to be?

        I sense a message written in the stars,
        a wisp of timid hope, a hint of wars.
        The text was clear; the message was succinct.
        Co-operate, or else become extinct.

        As much as it applies to labor, it applies to all of us.

        Reply
  4. The Historian

    The left needs to acknowledge that aspects of the neoliberal agenda have been overwhelmingly popular: it has successfully tapped into people’s instincts about the kind of life they want to lead, and wrapped these instincts up in a compelling narrative about how we should see ourselves and other people.

    Sigh, no this is not true. This author is making the mistake that everyone is like the top 5% and that just is not so. Perhaps she should get out of her personal echo chamber and talk to common people.

    In my travels I have been to every state and every major city, and I have worked with just about every class of people, except of course the ultra wealthy and ultra powerful – they have people to protect them from the great unwashed like me – and it didn’t take me long to notice that the elite are different from the rest of us but I could never explain exactly why. After I retired, I started studying and I’ve examined everything from Adam Smith, to Hobbes, to Kant, to Durkheim, to Marx, to Ayn Rand, to tons of histories and anthropologies of various peoples, to you name it and I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us are not neoliberal and do not want what the top 5% want.

    Most people are not overly competitive and most do not seek self-interest only. That is what allows us to live in cities, to drive on our roadways, to form groups that seek to improve conditions for the least of us. It is what allows soldiers to protect each other on the battlefield when it would be in their self interest to protect themselves. It is what allowed people in Europe to risk their own lives to save Jews. And it is also what allows people to live under the worst dictators without rebelling. Of course we all want more but we have limits on what we will do to get that more – the wealthy and powerful seem to have no limits. For instance, most of us won’t screw over our co-workers to make ourselves look better, although some will. Most of us won’t turn on our best friends even when it would be to our advantage to do so, although some will. Most of us won’t abandon those we care about, even when it means severe financial damage to us, although some will.

    For lack of a better description, I call what the 5% have the greed gene – a gene that allows them to give up empathy and compassion and basic morality – what some of us call fairness – in the search for personal gain. I don’t think it is necessarily genetic but there is something in their makeup that cause them to have more than the average self interest. And because most humans are more cooperative than they are competitive, most humans just allow these people to go after what they want and don’t stand in their way, even though by stopping them, they could make their own lives better.

    Most history and economics are theories and stories told by the rich and powerful to justify their behavior. I think it is a big mistake to attribute that behavior to the mass of humanity. Archeology is beginning to look more at how average people lived instead of seeking out only the riches deposited by the elite, and historians are starting to look at the other side of history – average people – to see what life was really like for them, and I think we are seeing that what the rulers wanted was never what their people wanted. It is beginning to appear obvious that 95% of the people just wanted to live in their communities safely, to have about what everyone else around them had, and to enjoy the simple pleasures of shelter, enough food, and warm companionship.

    I’m also wondering why the 5% think that all of us want exactly what they want. Do they really think that they are somehow being smarter or more competent got them there while 95% of the population – the rest of us – failed?

    At this point, I know my theory is half-baked – I definitely need to do more research, but nothing I have found yet convinces me that there isn’t some real basic difference between those who aspire to power and wealth and the rest of us.

    Reply
    1. Foy

      “…..and I’ve come to the conclusion that most of us are not neoliberal and do not want what the top 5% want. Most people are not overly competitive and most do not seek self-interest only. That is what allows us to live in cities, to drive on our roadways, to form groups that seek to improve conditions for the least of us. It is what allows soldiers to protect each other on the battlefield when it would be in their self interest to protect themselves. ”

      I really liked your comment Historian. Thanks for posting. That’s what I’ve felt in my gut for a while, that the top 5% and the establishment are operating under a different mindset, that the majority of people don’t want a competitive, dog eat dog, self interest world.

      Reply
      1. Mo's Bike Shop

        I agree with Foy Johnson. I’ve been reading up on Ancient Greece and realizing all the time that ‘teh Greeks’ are maybe only about thirty percent of the people in Greece. Most of that history is how Greeks were taking advantage of each other with little mention of the majority of the population. Pelasgians? Yeah, they came from serpents teeth, the end.

        I think this is a problem from the Bronze Age that we have not properly addressed.

        Mystery Cycles are a nice reminder that people were having fun on their own.

        Reply
    2. deplorado

      I have more or less the same view. I think the author’s statement about neoliberalism tapping into what type of life people want to lead is untenable. Besides instinct (are we all 4-year olds?), what people want is also very much socially constructed. And what people do is also very much socially coerced.

      One anecdote: years ago, during a volunteer drive at work, I worked side by side with the company’s CEO (company was ~1200 headcount, ~.5bn revenue) sorting canned goods. The guy was doing it like he was in a competition. So much so that he often blocked me when I had to place something on the shelves, and took a lot of space in the lineup around himself while swinging his large-ish body and arms, and wouldn’t stop talking. To me, this was very rude and inconsiderate, and showed a repulsive level of disregard to others. This kind of behavior at such an event, besides being unpleasant to be around, was likely also making work for the others in the lineup less efficient. Had I or anyone else behaved like him, we would have had a good amount of awkwardness or even a conflict.

      What I don’t get is, how does he and others get away with it? My guess is, people don’t want a conflict. I didn’t want a conflict and said nothing to that CEO. Not because I am not competitive, but because I didn’t want an ugly social situation (we said ‘excuse me’ and ‘sorry’ enough, I just didn’t think it would go over well to ask him to stop being obnoxious and dominant for no reason). He obviously didn’t care or was unaware – or actually, I think he was behaving that way as a tactical habit. And I didn’t feel I had the authority to impose a different order.

      So, in the end, it’s about power – power relations and knowing what to do about it.

      Reply
      1. Foy

        Yep, I think you’ve nailed it there deplorado, types like your CEO don’t care at all and/or are socially unaware, and is a tactical habit that they have found has worked for them in the past and is now ingrained. It is a power relation and our current world unfortunately is now designed and made to suit people like that. And each day the world incrementally moves a little bit more in their direction with inertia like a glacier. Its going to take something big to turn it around

        Reply
    3. Jeremy Grimm

      I too believe “most of us are not neoliberal”. But if so, how did we end up with the kind of Corporate Cartels, Government Agencies and Organizations that currently prey upon Humankind? This post greatly oversimplifies the mechanisms and dynamics of Neoliberalism, and other varieties of exploitation of the many by the few. This post risks a mocking tie to Identity Politics. What traits of Humankind give truth to Goebbels’ claims?

      There definitely is “some real basic difference between those who aspire to power and wealth and the rest of us” — but the question you should ask next is why the rest of us Hobbits blindly follow and help the Saurons among us. Why do so many of us do exactly what we’re told? How is it that constant repetition of the Neoliberal identity concepts over our media can so effectively ensnare the thinking of so many?

      Reply
      1. Foy

        Maybe it’s something similar to Milgram’s Experiment (the movie the Experimenter about Milgram was on last night – worth watching and good acting by Peter Sarsgaard, my kind of indie film), the outcome is just not what would normally be expected, people bow to authority, against their own beliefs and interests, and others interests, even though they have choice. The Hobbits followed blindly in that experiment, the exact opposite outcome as to what was predicted by the all the psychology experts beforehand.

        Reply
        1. Mo's Bike Shop

          people bow to authority, against their own beliefs and interests, and others interests, even though they have choice

          ‘Don’t Make Waves’ is a fundamentally useful value that lets us all swim along. This can be manipulated. If everyone is worried about Reds Under the Beds or recycling, you go along to get along.

          Some people somersault to Authority is how I’d put it.

          Reply
          1. Foy

            Yep, don’t mind how you put that Mo, good word somersault.

            One of the amusing tests Milgram did was to have people go into the lift but all face the back of the lift instead of the doors and see what happens when the next person got in. Sure enough, with the next person would get in, face the front, look around with some confusion at everyone else and then slowly turn and face the back. Don’t Make Waves… its instinctive to let us all swim along as you said.

            And ‘some people’ is correct. It was actually the majority, 65%, who followed directions against their own will and preferred choice in his original experiment.

            Reply
      2. cnchal

        > How is it that constant repetition of the Neoliberal identity concepts over our media can so effectively ensnare the thinking of so many?

        The ‘so many’ are not thinking, just doing what they are told as that is easier than thinking things through then figuring out how to resist by becoming a grain of sand in the gears of the neo liberal machinery instead of remaining the drop of oil.

        The finest compliment I ever received from my brother, a Sauron for sure, was at a party he was hosting when he told his fellow Saurons, don’t talk to him (refering to me) because ‘he will piss you off’.

        Challenging assumptions that the Saurons hold has a way of creeping into their thinking, particularly when it is demonstrated that they are victims of their own biases and at first think I’m nuts to find out what is nuts is the story they used to believe. I could never have done that without what is discussed on NC daily, that’s why the value I place on our hosts and fellow commenters is, priceless.

        Reply
    4. The Rev Kev

      That’s a pretty damn good comment that, Historian. Lots to unpick. It reminded me too of something that John Wyndham once said. He wrote how about 95% of us wanted to live in peace and comfort but that the other 5% were always considering their chances if they started something. He went on to say that it was the introduction of nuclear weapons that made nobody’s chances of looking good which explains why the lack of a new major war since WW2.

      Reply
    5. Mr grumpy

      Good comment. My view is that it all boils down to the sociopathic personality disorder. Sociopathy runs on a continuum, and we all exhibit some of its tendencies. At the highest end you get serial killers and titans of industry, like the guy sorting cans in another comment. I believe all religions and theories of ethical behavior began as attempts to reign in the sociopaths by those of us much lower on the continuum. Neoliberalism starts by saying the sociopaths are the norm, turning the usual moral and ethical universe upside down.

      Reply
    6. Janie

      Your theory is not half-baked; it’s spot-on. If you’re not the whatever it takes, end justifies the means type, you are not likely to rise to the top in the corporate world. The cream rises to the top happens only in the dairy.

      Reply
    7. Grebo

      Your 5% would correspond to Altemeyer’s “social dominators”. Unfortunately only 75% want a simple, peaceful life. 20% are looking for a social dominator to follow. It’s psychological.

      Reply
    8. Kristin Lee

      Excellent comment. Take into consideration the probability that the majority of the top 5% have come from a privileged background, ensconced in a culture of entitlement. This “greed” gene is as natural to them as breathing. Consider also that many wealthy families have maintained their status through centuries of calculated loveless marriages, empathy and other human traits gene-pooled out of existence. The cruel paradox is that for the sake of riches, they have lost their richness in character.

      Reply
    9. Davenport

      This really chimes with me. Thanks so much for putting it down in words.

      I often encounter people insisting humans are selfish. It is quite frustrating that this more predominant side of our human nature seems to become invisible against the propaganda.

      Reply
    10. J4Zonian

      A thoughtful comment.

      The difference in those who are rich (and those compelled to become rich) is started in childhood. It’s an attachment problem that results in addiction and then is reinforced by and reinforces all the conservatizing institutions in society–patriarchal family, hierarchical religion, didactic education, the military, conservative, almost psychopathic political-economic system… A lot of that system is designed to protect the dominant group and ideology; most of it’s unconscious.

      The behavior of the rich is also partly explained by the tendency to believe that the good they have has come to them because they deserve it, and what other people have is because of luck or lying. The work of neurolinguist Georg Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant) shows how negating a frame, a conceptual pattern of thought, reinforces that frame, so whatever happens, the idea that they deserve the good they’ve gotten is continually reinforced.

      The Ik people are an exaggerated example of the effects of the poverty of spirit we call capitalism, that results from poverty and deprivation in the world. Although whether their society is more extreme than ours is debatable.

      Reply
    11. inode_buddha

      There is a world of difference between a guy at the top wanting more, and a guy on the bottom wanting more. IMHO that difference is one of ethics.

      Reply
  5. Henry Moon Pie

    I’m barely into Jeremy Lent’s The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, but he’s already laid down his central thesis in fairly complete form. Humans are both competitive and cooperative, he says, which should surprise no one. What I found interesting is that the competitive side comes from primates who are more intensely competitive than humans. The cooperation developed after the human/primate split and was enabled by “mimetic culture,” communication skills that importantly presuppose that the object(s) of communication are intentional creatures like oneself but with a somewhat different perspective. Example: Human #1 gestures to Human #2 to come take a closer look at whatever Human #1 is examining. This ability to cooperate even came with strategies to prevent a would-be dominant male from taking over a hunter-gatherer band:

    [I]n virtually all hunter-gatherer societies, people join together to prevent powerful males from taking too much control, using collective behaviors such as ridicule, group disobedience, and, ultimately, extreme sanctions such as assassination…[This kind of society is called] a “reverse dominant hierarchy because rather than being dominated, the rank and file manages to dominate.

    Reply
    1. SKM

      yes, this chimes in with what I`ve been thinking for years after puzzling about why society everywhere ends up as it does – ie the fact that in small groups as we evolved to live in, we would keep a check on extreme selfish behaviour of dominant individuals. In complex societies (modern) most of us become “the masses” visible in some way to the system but the top echelons are not visible to us and are able to amass power and wealth out of all control by the rest of us. And yes, you do have to have a very strange drive (relatively rare, ?pathological) to want power and wealth at everyone else`s expense – to live in a cruel world many of whose problems could be solved (or not arise in the first place) by redistributing some of your wealth to little palpable cost to you

      Reply
    2. Mo's Bike Shop

      Africa over a few million years of Ice Ages seems to have presented our ancestors with the possibility of reproducing only if you can get along in close proximity to other Hominids without killing each other. I find that a compelling explanation for our stupidly big brains; it’s one thing to be a smart monkey, it’s a whole different solution needed to model what is going on in the brain of another smart monkey.

      And communications: How could spoken language have developed without levels of trust and interdependence that maybe we can not appreciate today? We have a word for ‘Blue’ nowadays, we take it for granted.

      Reply
      1. Anarcissie

        There is a theory that language originated between mothers and their immediate progeny, between whom either trust and benevolence exist, or the weaker dies. The mother’s chances for survival and reproduction are enhanced if she can get her progeny to, so to speak, help out around the house; how to do that is extended by symbolism and syntax as well as example.

        Reply
  6. chuck roast

    I recall the first day of Econ 102 when the Prof. (damned few adjuncts in those days) said, “Everything we discuss hereafter will be built on the concept of scarcity.” Being a contrary buggah’ I thought, “The air I’m breathing isn’t scarce.” I soon got with the program…supply and demand…upward sloping, downward sloping, horizontal, vertical and who could forget kinked. My personal favorite was the Giffen Good…a high priced inferior product. Kind of like Micro Economics.

    Maybe we could begin our new Neo-Economics 102 with the proviso, “Everything we discuss hereafter will be based on abundance.” I’m gonna’ like this class!

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      Neo-lib Econ does a great job at framing issues so that people don’t notice what is excluded. Think of them as proto-Dark Patternists.

      If you are bored and slightly mischievous, ask an economist how theory addresses cooperation, then assume a can opener and crack open a twist-top beer.

      Reply
    2. jrs

      Isn’t one of the problems that it’s NOT really built on the concept of scarcity? Most natural resources run into scarcity eventually. I don’t know about the air one breaths, certainly fish species are finding reduced oxygen in the oceans due to climate change.

      Reply
      1. shtove

        Yes, I suppose people in cities in south-east Asia wearing soot-exclusion masks have a different take on the abundance of air.

        Reply
    3. Jeremy Grimm

      If you would like that class on abundance you would love the Church of Abundant Life which pushes Jesus as the way to Abundant Life … and they mean that literally. Abundant as in Jesus wants you to have lots of stuff — so believe.

      I believe Neoliberalism is a much more complex animal than an economic theory. Mirowski builds a plausible argument that Neoliberalism is a theory of epistemology. The Market discovers Truth.

      Reply
    4. Mo's Bike Shop

      “The air I’m breathing isn’t scarce.”

      Had a lovely Physics class where the first homework problem boiled down to “How often do you inhale a atom (O or N) from Julius Caesar’s last breath”. Great little introduction to the power and pratfalls of ‘estimations by Physicists’ that xkcd likes to poke at. Back then we used the CRC Handbook to figure it out.

      Anyway, every second breath you can be sure you have shared an atom with Caesar.

      Reply
  7. Susan the Other

    I don’t think Maggie T. or uncle Milty were thinking about the future at all. Neither one would have openly promoted turfing quadriplegic 70-year-olds out of the rest home. That’s how short sighted they both were. And stupid. We really need to call a spade a spade here. Milty doesn’t even qualify as an economist – unless economics is the study of the destruction of society. But neoliberalism had been in the wings already, by the 80s, for 40 years. Nobody took into account that utility-maximizing capitalism always kills the goose (except Lenin maybe) – because it’s too expensive to feed her. The neoliberals were just plain dumb. The question really is why should we stand for another day of neoliberal nonsense? Albeit Macht Frei Light? No thanks. I think they’ve got the question backwards – it shouldn’t be how should “we” reconstruct our image now – but what is the obligation of all the failed neoliberal extractors to right society now? I’d just as soon stand back and watch the dam burst as help the neolibs out with a little here and a little there. They’ll just keep taking as long as we give. This isn’t as annoying as Macron’s “cake” comment, but it’s close. I did like the last 2 paragraphs however.

    Reply
  8. Susan the Other

    Here’s a sidebar. A universal one. There is an anomaly in the universe – there is not enough accumulated entropy. It screws up theoretical physics because the missing entropy needs to be accounted for for their theories to work to their satisfaction. It seems to be a phenomenon of evolution. Thus it was recently discovered by a physics grad student that entropy by heat dissipation is the “creator” of life. Life almost spontaneously erupts where it can take advantage of an energy source. And, we are assuming, life thereby slows entropy down. There has to be another similar process among the stars and the planets as well, an evolutionary conservation of energy. So evolution takes on more serious meaning. From the quantum to the infinite. And society – it’s right in the middle. So it isn’t too unreasonable to think that society is extremely adaptable, taking advantage of any energy input, and it seems true to think that. Which means that society can go long for its goal before it breaks down. But in the end it will be enervated by lack of “resources” unless it can self perpetuate in an evolving manner. That’s one good reason to say goodbye to looney ideologies.

    Reply
  9. djrichard

    For a view of humanity that is not as selfish, recommend “The Gift” by Marcel Mauss. Basically an anthropological study of reciprocal gift giving in the oceanic potlatch societies. My take is that the idea was to re-visit relationships, as giving a gift basically forces a response in the receiver, “Am I going to respond in kind, perhaps even upping what is required? Or am I going to find that this relationship simply isn’t worth it and walk away?”

    Kind of like being in a marriage. The idea isn’t to walk away, the idea is you constantly need to re-enforce it. Except with the potlatch it was like extending that concept to the clan at large, so that all the relationships within the clan were being re-enforced.

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      “Kind of like being in a marriage. The idea isn’t to walk away, the idea is you constantly need to re-enforce it. ”
      amen.
      we, the people, abdicated.

      as for humans being selfish by default…i used to believe this, due to my own experiences as an outlaw and pariah.
      until wife’s cancer and the overwhelming response of this little town,in the “reddest” congressional district in texas.
      locally, the most selfish people i know are the one’s who own everything…buying up their neighbor’s businesses when things get tough.
      they are also the most smug and pretentious(local dems, in their hillforts come a close second in this regard)…and most likely to be gop true believers.
      small town and all…everybody literally knows everybody, and their extended family…and those connections are intertwined beyond belief.
      wife’s related, in some way, to maybe half the town.
      that matters…and explains my experience as an outcast: i never belonged to anything like that…and such fellowfeeling and support is hard for people to extend to a stranger.
      That’s what’s gonna be the hard sell, here, in undoing the hyperindividualist, “there is no such thing as society” nonsense.

      Reply
      1. Mo's Bike Shop

        I grew up until Junior High in a fishing village on the Maine coast that had been around for well over a hundred years and had a population of under 1000. By the time I was 8 I realized there was no point in being extreme with anyone, because they were likely to be around for the rest of your life.

        I fell in love with sun and warmth when we moved away and unfortunately it’s all gentrified now, by the 90s even a tar paper shack could be sold for a few acres up in Lamoine.

        Reply
      2. djrichard

        Yep, small towns are about as close as we get to clans nowadays. And just like clans, you don’t want to be on the outside. Still when you marry in, it would be nice if the town would make you feel more a member like a clan should / would. ;-)

        But outside of the small town and extended families I think that’s it. We’ve been atomized into our nuclear families. Except for the ruling class – I think they have this quid pro quo gift giving relationship building figured out quite nicely. Basically they’ve formed their own small town – at the top.

        By the way, I understand Mauss was an influence on Baudrillard. I could almost imagine Baudrillard thinking how the reality of the potlatch societies was so different than the reality of western societies.

        Reply
      3. Anarcissie

        That’s the big problem I see in this discussion. We know, or at least think we know, what’s wrong, and what would be better; but we can’t get other people to want to do something about it, even those who nominally agree with us. And I sure don’t have the answer.

        Reply
  10. David

    Neoliberalism, in its early guise at least, was popular because politicians like Thatcher effectively promised something for nothing. Low taxes but still decent public services. The right to buy your council house without putting your parents’ council house house in jeopardy. Enjoying private medical care as a perk of your job whilst still finding the NHS there when you were old and sick. And so on. By the time the penny dropped it was too late.
    If the Left is serious about challenging neoliberalism, it has to return to championing the virtues of community, which it abandoned decades ago in favour of extreme liberal individualism Unfortunately, community is an idea which has either been appropriated by various identity warriors (thus fracturing society further) or dismissed (as this author does) because it’s been taken up by the Right. A Left which explained that when everybody cooperates everybody benefits, but that when everybody fights everybody loses, would sweep the board.

    Reply
    1. deplorado

      >>Neoliberalism, in its early guise at least, was popular because politicians like Thatcher effectively promised something for nothing.

      This. That’s it.

      Thank you David, for always providing among the most grounded and illuminating comments here.

      Reply
    2. Mo's Bike Shop

      If the Left is serious about challenging neoliberalism, it has to return to championing the virtues of community

      I agree. The tenuous suggestions offered by the article are top down. But top-down universal solutions can remove the impetus for local organization. Which enervates the power of communities. And then you can’t do anything about austerity, because your Rep loves the PowerPoints and has so much money from the Real Estate community.

      Before one experiences the virtue, or power, of a community, one has to go through the pain in the ass of contributing to a community. It has to be rewarding process or it won’t happen.

      No idea how to do that from the top.

      Reply
  11. PKMKII

    Anyone have a link to the studies mentioned about how Econ majors were the only ones to act selfishly in the game scenarios?

    Reply
  12. Summer

    “An example of how this plays out can be seen in academic studies showing that, in game scenarios presenting the opportunity to free-ride on the efforts of others, only economics students behaved as economic models predicted: all other groups were much more likely to pool their resources. Having been trained to believe that others are likely to be selfish, economists believe that their best course of action is to be selfish as well. The rest of us still have the instinct to cooperate. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising: after all, as George Monbiot argues in ‘Out of the Wreckage’, cooperation is our species’ main survival strategy.”

    Since so many people believe their job is their identity, would be interssting to know what the job training or jobs were of the “others.”

    Reply
    1. Summer

      “Ultimately, they can’t escape the fact that most people would like to spend less time at work.”

      And that is a key point!

      Reply
    2. Carey

      >so many people believe their job is their identity

      Only because the social sphere, which in the medium and long term we *all depend
      on* to survive, has been debased by 24/7/365 neolib talking points, and their purposeful economic constrictions..

      Reply
  13. Jeremy Grimm

    How many people have spent their lives working for the “greater good”? How many work building some transcendental edifice from which the only satisfaction they could take away was knowing they performed a part of its construction? The idea that Humankind is selfish and greedy is a projection promoted by the small part of Humankind that really is selfish and greedy.

    Reply
  14. Sound of the Suburbs

    Let’s work out the basics, this will help.

    Where does wealth creation actually occur in the capitalist system?

    Nations can do well with the trade, as we have seen with China and Germany, but this comes at other nation’s expense.
    In a successful global economy, trade should be balanced over the long term.
    Keynes was aware of this in the past, and realised surplus nations were just as much of a problem as deficit nations in a successful global economy with a long term future.

    Zimababwe has lots of money and it’s not doing them any favours. Too much money causes hyper-inflation.
    You can just print money, the real wealth in the economy lies somewhere else.
    Alan Greenspan tells Paul Ryan the Government can create all the money it wants and there is no need to save for pensions.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNCZHAQnfGU
    What matters is whether the goods and services are there for them to buy with that money. That’s where the real wealth in the economy lies.
    Money has no intrinsic value; its value comes from what it can buy.
    Zimbabwe has too much money in the economy relative to the goods and services available in that economy. You need wheelbarrows full of money to buy anything.
    It’s that GDP thing that measures real wealth creation.

    GDP does not include the transfer of existing assets like stocks and real estate.
    Inflated asset prices are just inflated asset prices and this can disappear all too easily as we keep seeing in real estate.

    1990s – UK, US (S&L), Canada (Toronto), Scandinavia, Japan
    2000s – Iceland, Dubai, US (2008)
    2010s – Ireland, Spain, Greece
    Get ready to put Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Hong Kong on the list.
    They invented the GDP measure in the 1930s, to track real wealth creation in the economy after they had seen all that apparent wealth in the US stock market disappear in 1929.
    There was nothing really there.

    Now, we can move on further.

    The UK’s national income accountants can’t work out how finance adds any value (creates wealth).
    Banks create money from bank loans, not wealth.

    https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/quarterly-bulletin/2014/money-creation-in-the-modern-economy.pdf
    We have mistaken inflating asset prices for creating wealth.

    How can banks create wealth with bank credit?
    The UK used to know before 1980.
    https://www.housepricecrash.co.uk/forum/uploads/monthly_2018_02/Screen-Shot-2017-04-21-at-13_53_09.png.e32e8fee4ffd68b566ed5235dc1266c2.png
    Before 1980 – banks lending into the right places that result in GDP growth (business and industry, creating new products and services in the economy)
    After 1980 – banks lending into the wrong places that don’t result in GDP growth (real estate and financial speculation)
    What happened in 1979?
    The UK eliminated corset controls on banking in 1979 and the banks invaded the mortgage market and this is where the problem starts.

    Real estate does make the economy boom, but there is no real wealth creation in inflating asset prices.
    What is really happening?

    When you use bank credit to inflate asset prices, the debt rises much faster than GDP.
    https://www.housepricecrash.co.uk/forum/uploads/monthly_2018_02/Screen-Shot-2017-04-21-at-13_53_09.png.e32e8fee4ffd68b566ed5235dc1266c2.png
    The bank credit of mortgages is bringing future spending power into today.
    Bank loans create money and the repayment of debt to banks destroys money.
    https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/quarterly-bulletin/2014/money-creation-in-the-modern-economy.pdf
    In the real estate boom, new money pours into the economy from mortgage lending, fuelling a boom in the real economy, which feeds back into the real estate boom.
    The Japanese real estate boom of the 1980s was so excessive the people even commented on the “excess money”, and everyone enjoyed spending that excess money in the economy.
    In the real estate bust, debt repayments to banks destroy money and push the economy towards debt deflation (a shrinking money supply).
    Japan has been like this for thirty years as they pay back the debts from their 1980s excesses, it’s called a balance sheet recession.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YTyJzmiHGk
    Bank loans effectively take future spending and bring it in today.
    Jam today, penury tomorrow.
    Using future spending power to inflate asset prices today is a mistake that comes from thinking inflating asset prices creates real wealth.
    GDP measures real wealth creation.

    Reply
  15. Sound of the Suburbs

    Did you know capitalism works best with low housing costs and a low cost of living?
    Probably not, you are in the parallel universe of neoliberalism.

    William White (BIS, OECD) talks about how economics really changed over one hundred years ago as classical economics was replaced by neoclassical economics.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6iXBQ33pBo&t=2485s

    He thinks we have been on the wrong path for one hundred years.

    Some very important things got lost 100 years ago.

    The Mont Pelerin society developed the parallel universe of neoliberalism from neoclassical economics.

    The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) saw the light once they discovered my equation (Michael Hudson condensed)

    Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)

    “Wait a minute, employees get their money from wages and businesses have to cover high housing costs in wages reducing profit” the CBI

    It’s all about the economy, and UK businesses will benefit from low housing costs.

    High housing costs push up wages and reduce profits.

    Off-shore to make more profit, you can pay lower wages where the cost of living is lower, e.g. China; the US and UK are rubbish.

    Reply
    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      What was Keynes really doing?
      Creating a low cost, internationally competitive economy.

      Keynes’s ideas were a solution to the problems of the Great Depression, but we forgot why he did, what he did.

      They tried running an economy on debt in the 1920s.

      The 1920s roared with debt based consumption and speculation until it all tipped over into the debt deflation of the Great Depression. No one realised the problems that were building up in the economy as they used an economics that doesn’t look at private debt, neoclassical economics.

      Keynes looked at the problems of the debt based economy and came up with redistribution through taxation to keep the system running in a sustainable way and he dealt with the inherent inequality capitalism produced.

      The cost of living = housing costs + healthcare costs + student loan costs + food + other costs of living

      Disposable income = wages – (taxes + the cost of living)

      High progressive taxation funded a low cost economy with subsidised housing, healthcare, education and other services to give more disposable income on lower wages.

      Employers and employees both win with a low cost of living.

      Keynesian ideas went wrong in the 1970s and everyone had forgotten the problems of neoclassical economics that he originally solved.

      Reply
      1. Sound of the Suburbs

        Economics, the time line:

        Classical economics – observations and deductions from the world of small state, unregulated capitalism around them

        Neoclassical economics – Where did that come from?

        Keynesian economics – observations, deductions and fixes for the problems of neoclassical economics

        Neoclassical economics – Why is that back?

        We thought small state, unregulated capitalism was something that it wasn’t as our ideas came from neoclassical economics, which has little connection with classical economics.

        On bringing it back again, we had lost everything that had been learned in the 1930s, by which time it had already demonstrated its flaws.

        Reply
  16. Kristin Lee

    Ultimately, neoliberalism is about privatization and ownership of everything. This is why it’s so important to preserve the Common Good, the vital resources and services that support earthly existence. The past 40 years has shown what happens when this falls out of balance. Our value system turns upside down – the sick become more valuable than the healthy, a violent society provides for the prisons-for-profit system and so on. The biggest upset has been the privatization of money creation.

    This latest secret bank bailout (not really secret as Dodd-Frank has allowed banks to siphon newly created money from the Fed without Congressional approval. No more public embarrassment that Hank Paulson had to endure.) They are now up to $690 billion PER WEEK while the media snoozes. PPPs enjoy the benefits of public money to seed projects for private gain. The rest of us have to rely on predatory lenders, sinking us to the point of Peak Debt, where private debt can never be paid off and must be cancelled, as it should be because it never should’ve happened in the first place.

    “Neoliberalism, which has influenced so much of the conventional thinking about money, is adamant that the public sector must not create (‘print’) money, and so public expenditure must be limited to what the market can ‘afford.’ Money, in this view, is a limited resource that the market ensures will be used efficiently. Is public money, then, a pipe dream? No, for the financial crisis and the response to it undermined this neoliberal dogma. The financial sector mismanaged its role as a source of money so badly that the state had to step in and provide unlimited monetary backing to rescue it. The creation of money out of thin air by public authorities revealed the inherently political nature of money. But why, then, was the power to create money ceded to the private sector in the first place—and with so little public accountability? And if money can be created to serve the banks, why not to benefit people and the environment?

    Reply
  17. Paul Hirshman

    The Commons should have a shot at revival as the upcoming generation’s desires are outstripped by their incomes and savings. The conflict between desires and reality may give a boost to alternate notions of what’s desirable. Add to this the submersion of cities under the waves of our expanding oceans, and one gets yet another concrete reason to think that individual ownership isn’t up to the job of inspiring young people. A Commons of some sort will be needed to undo the cost of generations of unpaid negative externalities. Fossil fuels, constant warfare, income inequality, stupendous idiocy of kleptocratic government…these baked in qualities of neo-liberalism are creating a very large, dissatisfied, and educated population…just about anywhere one looks. Suburbia will be on fire, as well as underwater. Farmlands will be parched, drenched, and exhausted. Where will Larry Summers dump the garbage?

    Reply

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