Political-economy of despair


Ideology is powerful.

Neoliberal economist’s have internalized Margaret Thatcher’s maxim that there’s no alternative.  The market knows best. All the government can do is get out of the way and let the market do its thing. American’s must never think that there’s anything government can do to help them. They just need to keep their little heads down and slave away till they die.

Lambert at Naked Capitalism has a pretty good description of neoliberalism that sums-up this sentiment quite nicely. 1) because markets. 2) go-die. Essentially, if you can’t find a way to market yourself in this savage neoliberal milieu, it’s your own fault, and you should quietly succumb.

If you think that I’m just hyperbolic, check out the statistics from a recent study.

“Forty-year-old American women among our nation’s top 1 percent can now expect to live 10 years longer than women of the same age in America’s poorest 1 percent. For men, the gap has grown even wider — to 15 years.

All these stats come from a study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This new research combines IRS tax records with Social Security Administration mortality data to paint a deeply unnerving picture of 21st-century life and death. That poor Americans “have 10 or 15 fewer years of life,” notes Stepner, a co-author of the study, really demonstrates the level of inequality we’ve had in the United States.”

The presidential campaign of 2016 has provided an opening to question the fundamental economic policies of our country. In this context, economist Gerald Friedman reviewed Bernie Sander’s economic proposals and ran into a buzz saw of opposition.

“When I conducted an assessment of Senator Bernie Sanders’ economic proposals and found that they could produce robust growth, the negative reaction among powerful liberal economists was swift and vehement. How much, I wondered, did this reflect personal disappointment being rationalized into a political economy of despair? Professional economists tend to embrace an economic theory that government can do little more than fuss around the edges. From that stance, what do they have to offer ordinary people for whom the economy is not working? Not a whole lot.”

It seems that Friedman’s real sin was to challenge the neoliberal ideology that holds sway in the US economics profession. Like Sanders, Friedman sees the market as a construct of government, but goes further and questions who the market, as it’s presently constructed, works for? Here the ideological bias of the neoliberal’s is most apparent, with their penchant for financialization of the economy and support of wealthy rent-seekers and monopolists. To the neoliberal’s and their wealthy benefactors, the American economy, with its pervasive inequality, is working just as intended.

One of the best things about the presidential campaign of 2016 is that Bernie Sanders has shone a light on neoliberalism, and of capitalism in general. Most importantly, Sanders has challenged how and for who we organize the US economy.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War — and perhaps since the beginning of the Cold War — large numbers of Americans have begun to ask questions about capitalism. Questions about whether it works, and how, and for whose benefit. Questions about whether capitalism is really the indispensable companion of democracy, as we have confidently been told for the last century or so, and about how those two things interact in the real world.”

Americans are starting to understand that the economy, as its presently configured, doesn’t work for them, providing an opening for a candidate or movement that can provide an alternative to neoliberalism. Win, lose or draw, this should be the Sanders mission going forward.

Update: Here’s Gaius Publius on how this all ends.

“As I’ve been writing almost from the start of doing this work, the whole game since the 1980s was to deprive the nation’s workers of good jobs; load the country with debt — so people could chase the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” with credit cards and mortgage-backed loans instead of real income — then make the government make sure no debt is forgiven.

That’s the whole game in a nutshell. A debt strike is an assault on that game, just as the Sanders candidacy is an assault on it. Neither assault can be allowed by the money-serving Establishment, but one form of assault is infinitely preferable to the other. Most sensible people do and will prefer electoral solutions.

My point again — if Sanders is not nominated, there will be no electoral solution (unless Clinton reverses a lifetime of pro-money policies), and the conflict will move into the next, non-electoral arena.”





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