How did we go from a nation that reformed capitalism with the New Deal, defeated Germany and Japan in WWII, rebuilt Europe, put a man on the moon, and created the Internet; to riven by inequality, overcome by addiction and helplessness, fearful of immigrants and wallowing in corruption?
The dirty little secret of the economic system that we use to organize our world–neoliberalism–is that it’s predicated on everyone being a selfish-asshole and only looking out for themselves.
However, examining American history, it’s clear that this economic dynamic goes against everything that our founders envisioned when they designed the republican-democracy enshrined in the Constitution. Our founders understood that a republic absolutely requires citizens to sacrifice their own self interest when it conflicted with the general welfare. In fact, the actual conception of civic virtue in a republic is by its very nature fundamentally contrary to the basic tenets of neoliberalism, that posit that selfish interests will result in the best and most efficient allocation of society’s resources.
Going further, it’s become obvious that neoliberalism and the importance it places on selfishness and self-interest is a fundamental rejection of republicanism.
As a primer, a republic is a system of government in which all citizens have an equal right to select their governing representatives, equal access to those representatives, and equal standing before the law. A republic is not a democracy, but a republic is always democratic in form: all citizens have an equal right and access to the electoral process through which government officials and representatives are selected.
In the Introduction to Securing the Fruits of Labor: The American Concept of Wealth Distribution, 1765–1900 (Lousiana State University Press, 1998) James L. Huston writes, “…the essence of the historical interest in republicanism is lodged in the word virtue, which means a willingness to forgo self-interest in order to pursue the general welfare. The search that so many historians have engaged in is to find when self-interest triumphed over virtue, when liberal capitalism overran republicanism.”
Led by neoliberal and propaganda charlatans like Milton Friedman, James Buchanan, David and Charles Koch, Karl Rove, and Frank Luntz, the US has abandoned virtuous republicanism for a corporate totalitarian state.
Objectivist author, Ayn Rand perfectly summed up this selfish value system.
No wonder our country is so fucked-up.
Let’s be clear–these neoliberal intellectuals have taken selfishness and self-interest, to their logical capitalist extreme, and in so doing provided us the caricature which demonstrates why republicanism will never be in harmony with neoliberalism.
The good news is that Americans are starting to recognize just how destructive neoliberal selfishness is and the immense damage it has wrought.
The polls showing enormous public support for the key progressive initiatives terrify the neoliberals. Sanders’ 2016 policy initiatives have transformed the Democratic Party candidates’ policy proposals for 2020. Warren’s policy proposals are having a similar effect. Polls show broad support for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, a jobs guaranty program, a tax system that would reverse the current race to plutocracy, the restoration of the rule of law, breaking up monopolies (particularly banking and Silicon Valley), and a meaningful minimum wage.
President Trump, Fox News, and neoliberal economists have attacked these policy proposals precisely because the public overwhelmingly supports them. These attacks form the selfish neoliberal meme that the government cannot and should not act to protect the public. Government should get out of the way by privatizing key industries while everyone should act in their own selfish interests to maximize the economy.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hearing a version of this story my whole life and it’s wearing thin. At this point it’s beyond obvious that the only ones served by a nation of selfish-assholes are the plutocrats and their political and media lackeys.
We’ve been discussing global weirding and the importance of a Green New Deal in response to the looming disaster, but it’s obvious that neoliberal selfishness will absolutely preclude action to save our world. For example, it’s insane to keep adding to global climate change. It’s insane to claim that we can afford to cripple our planet’s climate but cannot afford to prevent the catastrophe.
University of Missouri Kansas City, economics Professor Bill Black, says that the antidote to neoliberalism is Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). He also defines socialism as the opposite of selfishness and places it in the proper perspective.
“If neoliberals want to define as “socialism” an effective government that produces markets in which honest people prosper and we imprison or at least drive from the markets the elite cheaters, then we are all socialists. An economic system without an effective rule of law and with massive negative externalities such as global climate change is a suicidal kleptocracy. If neoliberals want to define that as “capitalism,” they should get used to the public rejecting it as an ideology that is as economically illiterate as it is inhumane and unethical. Kleptocracy and plutocracy invariably corrupt and ruin democracy. The truth is that honest markets and governments are complements and that the most effective economies are ‘mixed-economies.”
We’re at a turning point in America. We can continue the same disastrous policies or we can try something radical like rejecting selfishness and rediscovering virtue.