Neoliberalism: the deep narrative that lies beneath Donald Trump’s triumph | George Monbiot

1 month, 3 days ago

How a ruthless network of super-rich ideologues killed choice and destroyed people faith in politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ultra rich are scouts, experimenting with new styles of living, who blaze the trails that the rest of society will follow. The advance of society depends on the liberty of these independents to gain as much fund as they want and expend it how there is a desire to. All that is good and useful, hence, arises from inequality. There should be no connection between merit and reward , no distinction constructed between earned and unearned income, and no limit to the rents they can charge.

Inherited wealth is more socially useful than earned wealth: the idle rich, who dont have to work for their money, can devote themselves to influencing fields of thought and opinion, of tastes and notions. Even when they seem to be spending money on nothing but aimless showing, they are in fact acting as societies vanguard.

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

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

The ideologies Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan espoused were just two facets of neoliberalism. Photo: Bettmann/ Bettmann Archive

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

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

It was inevitable that the blaze, insurrectionary confidence of neoliberalism would exert a stronger gravitational pulling than the dying superstar of social democracy. Hayeks triumph could be witnessed everywhere from Blairs expansion of the private finance initiative to Clintons repeal of the Glass-Steagal Act, which had governed the financial sector. For all his grace and touch, Barack Obama, who didnt possess a narrative either( except hope ), was slowly reeled in by those who owned the means of persuasion.

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