The Flight to Serfdom


Neoliberal economist Friedrich Hayek wrote  The Road to Serfdom, in 1944, where he warned of totalitarian governments terrorizing their citizens.

Hayek’s dystopian vision is upon us, only instead of totalitarian governments it’s all-powerful corporations like United Airlines that we fear.

I imagine that everyone has seen the video of Dr. Dao being forcibly removed from a United jet.

It’s telling that United’s immediate response was to blame the victim and justify the outrageous assault on Dr. Dao.

Dear Team,

Like you, I was upset to see and hear about what happened last night aboard United Express Flight 3411 headed from Chicago to Louisville. While the facts and circumstances are still evolving, especially with respect to why this customer defied Chicago Aviation Security Officers the way he did, to give you a clearer picture of what transpired, I’ve included below a recap from the preliminary reports filed by our employees….


Of course, Oscar, United’s CEO, was lying, as the subsequent events demonstrated. The corporate media was not much better, essentially parroting United’s public relations campaign.

Jesus, if flying wasn’t bad enough before.

How can airlines treat their passengers this way?

Simple–concentration. After the mergers and acquisitions, promoted by neoliberal economists, we’re left with four too-big-to-fail airlines serving the country. United, along with the other airlines can do whatever the fuck they want because they are part of a powerful oligopoly, as Alex Pareene, writes.

“In the three decades after the U.S. deregulated the airline industry in 1978, carriers chased market share at the expense of profits, losing tens of billions of dollars over the period. From 2008 to 2014, four mergers combined eight big airlines into four: American Airlines Group Inc., United Continental Holdings Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co.”

“This is called oligopoly, and, for airline shareholders, this is great! It truly is a new golden age of aviation, for people who fly in private jets but own stock in airlines. For the rest of us, this is most of why flying sucks now (the rest of it is the ever-expanding and largely incompetent security state), and also why United is not that worried about you sharing that video of a man being brutally dragged off their plane. They are not embarrassed, and you will not embarrass them. Airlines feel no need to perform the dance of corporate penitence. If you’ve chosen to fly somewhere, it’s probably because you don’t have a good alternative to flying, and you may not even have a good alternative to flying one particular airline.”

Though economists like Hayek sold neoliberalism as the way to avoid a dystopian future, there is much evidence that he and the others that were part of the Neoliberal-Thought-Collective, understood the darker side of their economic prescriptions. It’s useful to recall that the first test for neoliberalism was in Chile, where Salvador Allende was brutally deposed and his followers tortured and killed, under the guidance of the infamous Chicago Boys, who were then free to practice their radical free-market economics on a captive populace.

Guess who is the captive populace now?

That’s right. The radical free-market economic nostrums forced upon the Chileans by the Chicago Boys have come an airport near you.

After decades of neoliberalism the end result has been  an unparalleled corporate consolidation that has greatly enriched a few at the expense of workers, consumers, and citizens in general. It’s also created a culture of meanness that makes the United’s actions possible.

Not just possible, but probable in the future.

In my opinion, video’s of the bleeding, unconscious doctor being dragged from the plane are a blunt warning from our corporate overlords.

Comply or else.

United’s advertising jingle is unintendedly ironic–Fly the Friendly Sky’s.


Update: Matt Stoller weighs in on the costs of deregulation.

“More broadly, it’s time for the public to recognize that there is no such thing as “Deregulation.” The choice is always simply between regulation by the public for the public or regulation by private powers for their personal benefit. In short, we must regulate our society through democracy, or the plutocrats will regulate our lives for us. And sometimes, as we saw with David Dao, they will use violence to get their way.”




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