Neoliberalism has trumped our democratic values and institutions by substituting a cost-benefit and efficiency rational. Political discourse is framed only in entrepreneurial terms where the management of a market-economy confers a government the legitimacy to carry out domestic and foreign policies, including warfare and homeland security.
Going further, neoliberalism has insinuated itself to such a degree that few of us notice how it has eroded our basic sense of morality in all aspects of our lives, including the ways in which we make sense of domestic and foreign policies.
For example, examining US foreign policy it’s obvious that under the morality of neoliberalism, democracy has come to signify allegiance to market values rather than a governing philosophy where citizens participate in governance. Understanding this calculus helps to understand the real purpose of the war-on-terror, where, rather than fighting terrorists, the US invades or “regime changes“ any government that resists the market.
In the recent presidential election, my liberal friends would look at me askance when I explained that I was opposed to Hillary Clinton because of her actions as Secretary of State, where she played a key role in regime-change operations in Hondouras and Libya.
But, wait, they would ask, wasn’t Hillary advancing American values by spreading freedom and democracy? And, didn’t these nations need liberation from brutal and despotic rule?
After reading an amazing essay, Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy, by political scientist, Wendy Brown, I’ve come to understand my friends confusion.
According to Brown, “…democracy does not signify a set of independent political institutions and civic practices comprising equality, freedom, autonomy and the principle of popular sovereignty but rather indicates only a state and subjects organized by market rationality. Indeed, democracy could even be understood as a code word for avail- ability to this rationality; removal of the Taliban and Baath party pave the way to that availability, and democracy is simply the name of the regime, conforming to neoliberal requirements, that must replace them. When Paul Bremer, the U.S.-appointed interim governor of Iraq, declared on May 26, 2003 (just weeks after the sacking of Baghdad and four days after the UN lifted economic sanctions), that Iraq was “open for business,” he made clear exactly how democracy would take shape in post- Saddam Iraq.”
What’s interesting is that under the morality of neoliberalism US foreign policy is exactly like US criminal law.
7th Circuit Court judge, Richard Posner, in his 1985 article in the Columbia Law Review entitled, An Economic Theory of the Criminal Law, explained how criminal law was intended to prevent people from opting out of the market.
“The major function of criminal law in a capitalist society is to prevent people from bypassing the system of voluntary, compensated exchange-the “market,” explicit or implicit-in situations where, because transaction costs are low, the market is a more efficient method of allocating resources than forced exchange. Market bypassing in such situations is inefficient — in the sense in which economists equate efficiency with wealth maximization — no matter how much utility it may confer on the offender.”
Indeed, criminal law and foreign policy have a lot of overlap. Don’t we treat foreign countries that stray from market based values as criminals who need to be punished lest they set a bad example that others might follow?
Isn’t that the real crime of Honduras, Libya, Venezuala, Iran, Cuba, Vietnam, Chile?
Contra Ken Burns and his Vietnam War documentary, where the Vietnam War was about US intentions gone wrong, maybe the Vietnam war was really about punishing a lawbreaker and making an example out of them so that other countries wouldn’t get any ideas?
The Domino theory sure looks a lot different in that light.