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On Neoliberalism and False Dualities

chicago dyke's picture

This essay is very good and I'd encourage you to pass it around, but it likely has too many big words and doesn't have shiny flashy stuff in the sidebar, so I doubt I'll be able to get many folks to read it. Still, this part struck me especially:

Earlier in the twentieth century some critics called fascism "capitalism with the gloves off," meaning that fascism was pure capitalism without democratic rights and organizations. In fact, we know that fascism is vastly more complex than that. Neoliberalism, on the other hand, is indeed "capitalism with the gloves off." It represents an era in which business forces are stronger and more aggressive, and face less organized opposition than ever before. In this political climate they attempt to codify their political power and enact their vision on every possible front. As a result, business is increasingly difficult to challenge, and civil society (nonmarket, noncommercial, and democratic forces) barely exists at all.
It is precisely in its oppression of nonmarket forces that we see how neoliberalism operates - not only as an economic system, but as a political and cultural system as well. Here the differences with fascism, with its contempt for formal democracy and highly mobilized social movements based upon racism and nationalism, are striking. Neoliberalism works best when there is formal electoral democracy, but when the population is diverted from the information, access, and public forums necessary for meaningful participation in decision-making. As neoliberal guru Milton Friedman put it in Capitalism and Freedom, because profitmaking is the essence of democracy, any government that pursues antimarket policies is being antidemocratic, no matter how much informed popular support they might enjoy. Therefore it is best to restrict governments to the job of protecting private property and enforcing contracts, and to limit political debate to minor issues. (The real matters of resource production and distribution and social organization should be determined by market forces.)

Equipped with this perverse understanding of democracy, neoliberals like Friedman had no qualms over the military overthrow of Chile's democratically elected Allende government in 1973, because Allende was interfering with business control of Chilean society. After fifteen years of often brutal and savage dictatorship - all in the name of the democratic free market - formal democracy was restored in 1989 with a constitution that made it vastly more difficult (if not impossible) for the citizenry to challenge the business-military domination of Chilean society. That is neoliberal democracy in a nutshell: trivial debate over minor issues by parties that basically pursue the same pro-business policies regardless of formal differences and campaign debate. Democracy is permissible as long as the control of business is off-limits to popular deliberation or change; i.e., so long as it isn't democracy.

Blogosphere, I'm looking at you.

I encourage you to read the whole thing. I'm going to think on it for a while, it's *that* kind of essay.

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BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

I need more time to read through it before I comment too much on it. One of the points it makes, which I think needs to be repeated loudly and often, is that - contrary to the bullshit we've been fed - most markets are not competitive. That's very important because most people selling market-based fixes rely on the theory of competitive markets, which almost never match the reality. If markets were competitive, I wouldn't have to have f'ing Verizon for my local phone service, for example.

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right -- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't. " - Eleanor Roosevelt

tarheel-leftist85's picture
Submitted by tarheel-leftist85 on

About to read the essay in its entirety, but I noticed it was written by Robert McChesney. If you like the essay, you might like the book Rich Media/Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times. The corporate media--and, now, with assistance from access bloggerboiz--play a central role in bringing neoliberalism to the United States. I think McChesney's book and Naomi Klein's book Shock Doctrine, are both must-reads in order to understand what's going on right now. Thanks!

It's all about rents and rent-seeking.

basement angel's picture
Submitted by basement angel on

That is some potent writing. Friedman really is nuts.

"Someone needs to point out that elephants produce infinitely more shit than donkeys." Brad Mays

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

i confess i stole this from another poster. still, i'm proud that we got this many comments on it, where the place it was posted in which i found it generated almost none.

Corrente: the blog of people who read actual books! without pictures or flashy spinning graphics, even! wow.

Submitted by Lex on

Thanks much for that link.

Now the trick, imo, is to turn the weaponized word "liberal" back on "conservatives" by hammering on the fact that American Conservativism is actually neo-liberalism.

Sure, the mainstream Dems are rotten neo-liberals too, but they're ineffective and not frightening...so never mind them for the moment.

"In some respects, the caliber of debate and choice in neoliberal elections tends to be closer to that of the one-party communist state than that of a genuine democracy."

That's a money quote for me, because i've been comparing modern America to the Soviet Union (internally) for a long time. And where i do see differences i think the advantage goes to Homo sovieticus. At least most of them didn't believe the bullshit they got spoon fed.

“Don’t believe them, don’t fear them, don’t ask anything of them” - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn