I’ve come to believe that Friedrich von Hayek was projecting when he claimed that socialism would usher in The Road to Serfdom, when in reality the road to serfdom has been paved by 21st century capitalism as embodied and enacted by monopolies like Amazon and Facebook.
Neoliberal intellectuals like Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman argued that the market represents a superior solution to securing the individual citizen’s representation and participation in sociopolitical processes. Beginning with the Mont Pelerin Society, they increasingly questioned the role of the state as a collective decision-maker and social planner and elevated consumer sovereignty into the only norm according to which societal wellbeing could be measured. The market, not democracy was sacrosanct, which is why so many neoliberal economists supported at different moments in their career authoritarian or even fascist regimes. Preserving the marketplace was more important than preserving democracy.
Many theorists confuse neoliberalism with laissez faire, but neoliberals understand that the market utopia they desire requires state intervention. Early neoliberals like Hayek and Mises did not expect the neoliberal market order to just arise. They found it necessary to convince the population of the blessings of the neoliberal order, and they utilized the state as an indispensable and powerful tool in the attempt to create and safeguard this market based order.
Present day neoliberal capitalism has benefitted from the simultaneous withering of the state as it relates to you and I, along with increased coercive power of the state to enforce a market based order. The coercive power of the state (as long as they control the state), is because neoliberals (rightly) have always viewed democratic state power as a fundamental threat to the freedom of capital.
We can observe this dynamic with powerful monopolies, like Amazon, who are still dependent upon countries, states and politicians for everything from the exercise of coercive power over populations, to forced market activity, to military intervention, to maintaining the very trade treaties that stymie states’ popular sovereign powers. Not only has ideology become more obscene and the coercion more blatant, but the rule of monopolies like Amazon over our government has become both more coercive and more direct, as we’ve observed with the giant online retailers demanded subsidies in its search for a new headquarters.
The late cultural theorist Mark Fisher came up with an appropriate term for this phase of capitalist development. He called it: market Stalinism, where, “the idealized market was supposed to deliver friction free exchanges, in which the desires of consumers would be met directly, without the need for intervention or mediation by regulatory agencies. Yet the drive to assess the performance of workers and to measure forms of labor which, by their nature, are resistant to qualification, has inevitably required additional layers of management and bureaucracy.”
While neoliberalism promised us a world of efficiency, plenty, opportunity, abundance, and, ultimately, freedom, it has instead delivered a proliferation of bureaucracy, shortage, stultification, scarcity, and coercion. Despite the decades of “free market” or “free enterprise” propaganda, the reality is that neoliberalism has only truly delivered freedom for the billionaire class that rules our country. For the rest of us, we have a rigged, monopoly dominated, surveillance focused, financialized crony-economy.
Looking around, it’s become obvious that rather than freedom, neoliberalism has been an excuse for a 40 year looting spree by a sociopathic elite, who are uninterested in ruling a country that is falling apart, in some places resembling nothing so much as the Third World shit-holes that our president disparages.
That many Americans are becoming dimly aware of their precarious existence only feeds into this ongoing legitimation crisis embodied by the teacher strikes and labor militancy that appear to be the first signs of a nascent revolt against this oppressive market Stalinism. Both of our establishment political parties and the transnational oligarchs who own and control them are scared to death of the social democracy and working class revolts now on the ascendant, which threaten to undo 40 years of punitive austerity for us and record riches for themselves.
Luckily, American history provides an inspiring account of heroic activists who stand up to a nexus of state and corporate monopoly power. I’m talking, of course, about the Boston Tea Party where on December 16, 1773, American patriots boarded tea ships belonging to the hated East India Company anchored in the harbour and dumped their tea cargo overboard. At the time, the East India Company was the most powerful monopoly in the world, empowered by the British government to help maintain its sprawling empire.
Update: Senator Elizabeth Warren recently made national headlines with her plans to break up tech giants Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple, making it one of her signature proposals as she campaigns for the presidency. The notion should resonate and echo in our political memory—Teddy Roosevelt made his name as the trust-buster, for going after the great monopolies of the early 20th century in the name of the public interest. Twenty-first-century populist economics in America continues to be adorned the century-old piece of political syntax, “break ’em up.”
Warren’s essential rationale is that these tech companies act as monopolies and need to be cut down in size in order to promote more competitive markets, via traditional antitrust instruments such as the Sherman Act.