In this summary, Walden Bello distills the key ideas and data contained in Thomas Piketty’s monumental work Capital and Ideology.
In an effort to get away from the simply pejorative use of the term neoliberalism, which can be attached indiscriminately to various forms of anti-democratic or pro-corporate power, the more historicist approach to the concept highlights its fluidity and contingent development. However, this approach also risks lapsing into pure historical description, without critique or an account of how ideas translate into policies and strategies. Others apply a more sociological and critical method, which aims to examine which aspects of neoliberalism are at work amongst elites and governments today. This poses the question of precisely how much of neoliberalism has survived the global financial crisis, and through what means this survival has been achieved.
Definitions of neoliberalism across these literatures are various. But they tend to share four things:
- Victorian liberalism is viewed as an inspiration for neoliberalism, but not a model. Neoliberalism is an inventive, constructivist, modernizing force, which aims to produce a new social and political model, and not to recover an old one. Neoliberalism is not a conservative or nostalgic project.
- Following this, neoliberal policy targets institutions and activities which lie outside of the market, such as universities, households, public administrations and trade unions. This may be so as to bring them inside the market, through acts of privatization; or to reinvent them in a ‘market-like’ way; or simply to neutralize or disband them.
- To do this, the state must be an active force, and cannot simply rely on ‘market forces’. This is where the distinction from Victorian liberalism is greatest. Neoliberal states are required to produce and reproduce the rules of institutions and individual conduct, in ways that accord with a certain ethical and political vision.
- This ethical and political vision is dominated by an idea of competitive activity, that is, the production of inequality. Competition and inequality are valued positively under neoliberalism, as a non-socialist principle for society in general, through which value and scientific knowledge can best be pursued.
By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst, Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website
Nobel laureate James Buchanan is the intellectual lynchpin of the Koch-funded attack on democratic institutions, argues Duke historian Nancy MacLean
Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if the Tennessee-born Nobel laureate were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.
The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.
That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains, a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction. While Americans grapple with Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency, we may be missing the key to changes that are taking place far beyond the level of mere politics. Once these changes are locked into place, there may be no going back.
In the United States, the 400 richest individuals now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of the population and the three richest own more wealth than the bottom 50 percent, while pervasive poverty means one in five households have zero or negative net worth.
Those are just several of the striking findings of Billionaire Bonanza 2017, a new report (pdf) published Wednesday by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) that explores in detail the speed with which the U.S. is becoming “a hereditary aristocracy of wealth and power.” …
“The wealthiest 25 individuals in the United States today own $1 trillion in combined assets,” the report notes. “These 25, a group equivalent to the active roster of a major league baseball team, hold more wealth than the bottom 56 percent of the U.S. population combined, 178 million people.”
This is almost unheard of. Unemployment was most recently this low in December 1973, when the UK set an unrepeated record of just 3.4%.
The problem with this record is that the statistical definition of “unemployment” relies on a fiction that economists tell themselves about the nature of work. As the rate gets lower and lower, it tests that lie. Because – as anyone who has studied basic economics knows – the official definition of unemployment disguises the true rate. In reality, about 21.5% of all working-age people (defined as ages 16 to 64) are without jobs, or 8.83 million people, according to the Office for National Statistics. Continue reading
Global Justice Now press release:
Much more wealth is leaving the world’s most impoverished continent than is entering it, according to new research into total financial flows into and out of Africa. The study finds that African countries receive $161.6 billion in resources such as loans, remittances and aid each year, but lose $203 billion through factors including tax avoidance, debt payments and resource extraction, creating an annual net financial deficit of over $40 billion.
At the heart of Guilluy’s inquiry is globalization. Internationalizing the division of labor has brought significant economic efficiencies. But it has also brought inequalities unseen for a century, demographic upheaval, and cultural disruption. Now we face the question of what—if anything—we should do about it.
A process that Guilluy calls métropolisation has cut French society in two. In 16 dynamic urban areas (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse, Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Rennes, Rouen, Toulon, Douai-Lens, and Montpellier), the world’s resources have proved a profitable complement to those found in France. These urban areas are home to all the country’s educational and financial institutions, as well as almost all its corporations and the many well-paying jobs that go with them. Here, too, are the individuals—the entrepreneurs and engineers and CEOs, the fashion designers and models, the film directors and chefs and other “symbolic analysts,” as Robert Reich once called them—who shape the country’s tastes, form its opinions, and renew its prestige. Cheap labor, tariff-free consumer goods, and new markets of billions of people have made globalization a windfall for such prosperous places. But globalization has had no such galvanizing effect on the rest of France. Cities that were lively for hundreds of years—Tarbes, Agen, Albi, Béziers—are now, to use Guilluy’s word, “desertified,” haunted by the empty storefronts and blighted downtowns that Rust Belt Americans know well. Continue reading
Meritocracy, Franks argues, is the ideology that allowed Democrats to self-consciously claim the mantle of social justice and egalitarianism while subverting both. In this framework, one’s race, creed, color, gender, or sexual orientation shouldn’t matter when it comes to achieving success in America; what does matter is having the talent and ability to graduate from a place like Harvard Law. But at the same time, meritocracy demands inequality—not everyone, after all, can go to Harvard Law or become a doctor or a high-tech executive. In fetishizing meritocracy, therefore, the Democratic Party has embraced an ideology based on inequality.
Frank contrasts this ideology with the GOP’s more traditional plutocratic one. In the United States, as elsewhere, having a lot of money gives you power. But this “hierarchy of money,” as he puts it, is rivaled by another: a “hierarchy of merit, learning, and status.” The lawyers, doctors, and academics who compose “the liberal class” (to use the journalist Chris Hedges’s term) have erected their own edifice of power—one that has also come to ignore the interests of working-class people and reproduced structures of extreme racism, particularly in the prison system.
This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust—specifically its pegging competition to “consumer welfare,” defined as short-term price effects—is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output. Specifically, current doctrine underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational—even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational and therefore implausible. Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend. This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors.
Here is a typical example. Minority President Trump has said that he intends to get rid of 75% of government regulations. What is a “regulation”?
The term “regulation” is framed from the viewpoint of corporations and other businesses. From their viewpoint, “regulations” are limitations on their freedom to do whatever they want no matter who it harms. But from the public’s viewpoint, a regulation is a protection against harm done by unscrupulous corporations seeking to maximize profit at the cost of harm to the public. Continue reading
By “liberalism” I mean what is considered under this term in the US. By “to blame” I mean “for the rise of Trump and similar nationalist-populists”.
What are the arguments for seeing liberal triumphalism which began with the collapse of Communism in the 1990s as having produced the backlash we are witnessing today? I think they can be divided into three parts: economics, personal integrity, and ideology.
The UK has long depended on heavy flows of investment from abroad to make up for the weaknesses in its own corporate and financial institutions. In 2015 the UK ran a deficit in its external trade in goods and services of 96 billion pounds ($146 billion in 2015), or 5.2 percent of GDP, the largest percentage deficit in postwar British historyand by far the largest of any of the G-7 group of industrialized economies. By comparison, the US ran a deficit of 2.6 percent of GDP, while Germany earned a surplus of 8.3 percent, Japan a surplus of 3.6 percent, and France broke even. In the memorable words of Mark Carney, the Canadian-born Governor of the Bank of England, the UK must depend on “the kindness of strangers” to remedy its trade gap.
The reason for this unusual dependency is that for decades the UK has been unable to produce enough goods that the rest of the world wants to buy. According to WTO statistics, between 1980 and 2011 the UK’s share of global manufacturing exports was halved, from 5.41 percent to 2.59 percent, so that by 2011, according to UN statistics, the dollar value of UK merchandise exports at $511 billion was not far off the level of Belgium’s at $472 billion, an economy with one six the UK’s population, (and not included in the Belgian figures, the value of German exports routed through Belgium ports).
Looking at export industries such as IT products, automobiles, machine tools, and precision instruments, all strongly dependent on advanced R&D and employee skills at all levels, the UK’s performance looks even worse. The period of 2005-2011 is especially revealing because it includes both the years of the Great Recession and the collapse of trade between the advanced industrial economies, but also years in which their trade with China and other BRIC economies such as India and Brazil grew rapidly. Since one of the chief claims of the Brexit campaigners has been that there are now these exciting new markets in BRIC countries waiting for British exporters to conquer, it is worth looking at how British companies actually performed during those years.
Slow economic growth is not just an after-effect of the Great Recession but part of a deeper malaise that predates, and indeed may have helped cause, the financial crisis. A number of narratives have emerged in recent years to try to explain this global dearth of growth, such as the ‘debt overhang’ narrative, which states that growth is primarily hampered by an excessive indebtedness of economic agents, or various versions of the ‘secular stagnation’ narrative, which sees the cause of slow growth in a chronic shortfall of demand resulting from population ageing and the rise of income and wealth inequality, and/or in the diminishing returns of technological innovation. These various narratives probably all have some degree of validity. However, they tend to focus on developments that, even if they act as mutually reinforcing drags on growth, are in fact symptoms of the world’s economic predicament rather its deeper root causes.
Even more than from what most economists usually look at, i.e. constraints on capital and labour and on the productivity of their use, the slowdown of global economic growth since before the financial crisis might be resulting from factors that they typically ignore, i.e. constraints on the supply of energy and other biophysical resources that feed into the economic process and impact its functioning. In fact, the world’s capacity to create additional wealth is getting increasingly eroded by biophysical boundaries that over time tend to raise the acquisition costs, constrain the quantity and degrade the quality of the flows of energy and natural resources that can be delivered to the economic process, as well as by the constantly increasing costs of some of the economic process’ side effects (i.e. ‘negative externalities’ including environmental degradation and climate change), and the growing need to ‘internalise’ them into the price system. These biophysical constraints, as they increase, tend to weigh more and more on the economy’s productive capacity, thus eroding the potential for productivity and output growth.
What is to be done? First we must try to tell the truth and a condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. For 40 years, neoliberals lived in a world of denial and indifference to the suffering of poor and working people and obsessed with the spectacle of success. Second we must bear witness to justice. We must ground our truth-telling in a willingness to suffer and sacrifice as we resist domination. Third we must remember courageous exemplars like Martin Luther King Jr, who provide moral and spiritual inspiration as we build multiracial alliances to combat poverty and xenophobia, Wall Street crimes and war crimes, global warming and police abuse – and to protect precious rights and liberties. Continue reading
That’s how the party ended up with its most vulnerable members — centrist Blue Dogs in the South — hawking austerity during the worst mass unemployment crisis in 80 years. Almost all of them lost in 2010. That loss, in turn, paved the way for many of the other major problems Democrats are having. That was a census year, and huge Republican victories allowed them to control the subsequent redistricting process, in which they gerrymandered themselves a 7-point handicap in the House of Representatives and in many state legislatures.
That brings me to the foreclosure crisis, the handling of which was even worse. Instead of partially ameliorating it as with employment, the Obama administration helped it happen. As David Dayen writes in Chain of Title, the financial products underpinning the subprime mortgage boom were riddled with errors, and in order to be able to foreclose on people who had defaulted, they had to commit systematic document fraud. This epic crime spree gave the White House tremendous leverage to negotiate a settlement to keep people in their homes, but instead the administration co-opted a lawsuit from state attorneys general and turned it into a slap on the wrist that reinvigorated the foreclosure machine. There was also $75 billion in the Recovery Act to arrest foreclosures, but the administration’s effort at this, HAMP, was such a complete disaster that they only spent about 16 percent of the money and enabled thousands of foreclosures in the process.
Writing after its explosion in 20th-century Europe, Karl Polanyi described in his 1944 book “The Great Transformation” how civil society and individual liberty are threatened as never before when a society has to reconfigure itself to serve the “utopian experiment of a self-regulating market.” Social and political life in India, America and
Europe was drastically remade by neoliberal economism in recent decades, under, as the legal scholar David Kennedy has argued, the administration of a professional global class of hidden persuaders and status-seekers.
One of the first signs of this change in India was a proliferation of American-style think-tanks, sponsored by big business as eager as ever to influence political decision-making and military spending. In recent years, smooth-tongued “policy entrepreneurs” (Paul Krugman’s term) advocating free-market reforms and a heavily armed security-state have dominated India’s public sphere.
Jagdish Bhagwati, a Columbia University economist who claims to be the intellectual father of India’s economic liberalization, argued in 2013 that the poor celebrate inequality, and with the poise of a Marie Antoinette, advised malnourished families in India to consume “more milk and fruits.” Arvind Panagariya, a colleague of Mr. Bhagwati’s who now works for the Indian government’s economic policy think-tank,
took to arguing that Indian children were genetically underweight, and not really as malnourished as the World Health Organization had claimed. The 2015 Nobel laureate Angus Deaton rightly calls such positions “poverty denialism.” …
For all his humblebragging, Mr. Modi, like Mr. Trump, illustrated perfectly how money talks, power seduces and success eclipses morality. One of Mr. Modi’s most loyal fan bases was rich Indian-American businesspeople, who were naturally attracted to the promise of a wealthy India allied with the United States. And conversely. At a charity event in New Jersey last month, Mr. Trump sought their support, and hailing India’s prime minister as a “great man,” declared, “I am a big fan of Hindu.” “Big, big fan.”
Long before Peter Thiel plumped for Mr. Trump and Mark Zuckerberg defended Mr. Thiel, Silicon Valley lined up to hail Mr. Modi’s vision of “Digital India.” Sheryl Sandberg declared that she was changing her Facebook profile in “his honor.” These data-monetizing fans of Hindu may not have known that Mr. Modi, supervising a radical ideological purge at home, had launched Digital India at his residence in New Delhi
with a private reception for some of India’s most vicious trolls. …
Such firebrands emerged out of economic and political crises in almost every major European country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, distracting angry citizens with the demonization of minorities, cosmopolitans and liberals. Drawing a cautionary tale from this blood-stained history, Polanyi assumed that the catastrophic triumph of economism over social and political necessities would be reversed. The three decades after World War II proved him right. Social-welfare policies underpinned national reconstruction in war-ravaged Europe, as well as in postcolonial Asia and Africa after decades of imperialism.
In our own time, a global network of elites has tried to restart the discredited utopian experiment of a self-regulating market. The experiment failed, and again the rage of cheated masses has spawned demagogues who simultaneously promise to avenge the left-behinds and to rewire their alliances with the elites. Any attempt to rebuild
democracy must reckon with the deeper reasons for its great and drastic transformation — above all in India, where Hindu supremacism, in its cruelty and callousness, anticipated the big, big American fan of Hindu.
The Incendiary Appeal of Demagoguery in Our Time
A wonderful article. Brilliant analysis.
Indeed, a revolution had occurred. But the contours of that revolution would not be clear for decades. In 1974, young liberals did not perceive financial power as a threat, having grown up in a world where banks and big business were largely kept under control. It was the government—through Vietnam, Nixon, and executive power—that organized the political spectrum. By 1975, liberalism meant, as Carr put it, “where you were on issues like civil rights and the war in Vietnam.” With the exception of a few new members, like Miller and Waxman, suspicion of finance as a part of liberalism had vanished.
Over the next 40 years, this Democratic generation fundamentally altered American politics. They restructured “campaign finance, party nominations, government transparency, and congressional organization.” They took on domestic violence, homophobia, discrimination against the disabled, and sexual harassment. They jettisoned many racially and culturally authoritarian traditions. They produced Bill Clinton’s presidency directly, and in many ways, they shaped President Barack Obama’s.
The result today is a paradox. At the same time that the nation has achieved perhaps the most tolerant culture in U.S. history, the destruction of the anti-monopoly and anti-bank tradition in the Democratic Party has also cleared the way for the greatest concentration of economic power in a century. This is not what the Watergate Babies intended when they dethroned Patman as chairman of the Banking Committee. But it helped lead them down that path. The story of Patman’s ousting is part of the larger story of how the Democratic Party helped to create today’s shockingly disillusioned and sullen public, a large chunk of whom is now marching for Donald Trump. Continue reading
There has been to my mind a very silly debate about whether Trump supporters are driven by racism, xenophobia, and misogyny or whether they are driven by economic factors.
I consider this debate silly since both are obviously important in my view. Racism, xenophobia, and misogyny are deeply rooted in society and few of us can claim to be completely devoid of these sentiments. The question is how these hatreds can come to be the defining feature of political life for large numbers of people and here I think the economic policies of the last four decades have played a crucial role.