I know it’s hard to turn away from the ongoing dumpster fire that is the Trump administration but it’s imperative to understand how we got here.
Can you say neoliberalism?
The neoliberals first gathered at Mont Pelerin, circa 1947, in the aftermath of the Great Depression, and implementation of the New Deal. These right-wing economists, led by Friedrich Hayek, plotted to regain the the intellectual initiative after being relegated to the sidelines by FDR, and the economic philosophies of John Maynard Keynes. After 70 years of dedicated work, employing a collection of affiliated think-tanks, neoliberal economic departments, astro-turf operations, and lavish amounts of funding, it’s clear that their efforts have won the day.
Trump is the latest indicator, even if he wasn’t the neoliberals first choice.
Indeed, it’s increasingly obvious that we’re under a bipartisan neoliberal regime: a marriage of governmental and corporate interests, pretending to be a democratic republic. In the process, neoliberalism has become ubiquitous, advancing into every aspect of our lives, economically, culturally, and politically. It’s like the air we breath.
To me it’s clear that the neoliberals have been successful largely because of their doctrine of double-truth, where there’s an esoteric truth for the neoliberal elite and an exoteric one for the rest of us, who are encouraged to be ignorant. Since this is America, where the neoliberals, along with their conservative allies, have waged a 40 year campaign against public education, this ignorance is baked in.
In Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, economic/historian Philip Mirowski, says that double-truth allows the neoliberals to have their cake and eat it too. For example, the neoliberals preach that the market is the unforgiving arbiter of all political action; “but they absolve themselves from its rule.” They wax poetic about libertarian freedom but maintain a regimented hierarchy in their own political organizations. They endlessly sermonize about a spontaneous economic order, while seizing the state. And, now that they’ve taken over the state, they’ve elevated the sacred “market” as a site of truth for everyone except themselves.
A key component of double-truth is a tactic we’ve talked about before: agnotology. Agnotology is the deliberate sowing of doubt, confusion and ignorance. It’s the intentional manufacture of doubt and uncertainty in the general populace for specific political motives. Agnotology is very different from propaganda, where rather than emanating from Big Brother, agnotology is a set of market based procedures. It situates the manufacture of doubt in the professions of advertising and public relations with help from think tanks and lobbying firms.
Think of the campaigns by the cigarette companies to cast uncertainty over the health effects of smoking, or the efforts by the Koch brothers to cloud the consensus over global warming.
This being America, where historical knowledge and perspective are in short supply, the agnotology efforts have been amazingly successful, as our recent history has convincingly demonstrated. Ask yourself why no one has been held accountable and there’s been no changes made to our neoliberal economic arrangement 10 years after the Wall Street Crash?
The 2008 economic meltdown was comparable to the stock market failure of 1929 that brought about FDR and the New Deal. After the 2008 crash, instead of the Pecora Commission, nationalization of banks, and prison time for the perpetrators, we got Barak Obama, the first bank president. In fact, Obama’s role was to prevent the changes that voters hoped to see, and indeed that the economy needed to recover: financial reform, debt writedowns to bring junk mortgages in line with fair market prices, and throwing crooked bankers in jail. Obama rescued the banks, not the economy, and turned over the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to his Wall Street campaign contributors.
Not only did Obama save the banks, but under the guidance of neoliberals like Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, the toxic mortgage-backed-securities of Wall Street that caused the crash were transferred onto the federal governments balance sheet burdening us with the debt while leaving the profits of the banks in private hands.
Since then we’ve had a chorus of voices, (think the Tea Party), denouncing government debt, and loudly calling for austerity, which has resulted in fire sales of government assets, firing unionized state employees and crude attempts to lower wages and renege on pensions.
You almost have to admire the sheer chutzpah of the neoliberals and their fellow travelers. With their strategic deployment of agnotology, coupled with Americans dim understanding of the events, the story turned out to have a familiar narrative–it’s all the fault of government. Even Obama, our progressive, community-organizer, president played along, lecturing us that the US government is just like a household and in response to the mountains of debt foisted upon us by Wall Street, we all needed to tighten our belts.
You can’t make this shit up.
Now I have to ask. Faced with the overwhelming power of neoliberalism, is resistance even possible? Is there really no alternative?
As I see it, if the neoliberals can use double-truth, then so can we. If they can treat laws as arbitrary then so can we. If their mantra is there is no society, only the market, then ours should be–Fuck-you! I won’t do what you tell me.
Of course there is a society. We just need to get busy building and fortifying it.