neoliberalism

Globalization the EU and the Road to Serfdom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/05/2018 - 9:00pm in

It might be a good idea to start with some theoretical clarifications. Firstly, nationalism should not be confused with national sovereignty. Nations which are effectively ruled by outside agents – from Greece to Honduras - are not sovereign; they are colonies or vassals of some larger agency. And since they are not sovereign, the cannot be democratic, since decision making, and policies have been abrogated to an external ruling power. Secondly, nationalism: the term which in general is generally regarded as the all-weather bête noire by the orthodox left, can be and often is aggressive, racist, imperialistic, and so forth.

Neo- and Other Liberalisms

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/05/2018 - 3:27am in

Everybody seems to be worked up about “neoliberalism” these days. A review of Quinn Slobodian’s new book on the Austrian (or perhaps the Austro-Hungarian) roots of neoliberalism in the New Republic by Patrick Iber reminded me that the term “neoliberalism” which, in my own faulty recollection, came into somewhat popular usage only in the early 1980s, had actually been coined in the early the late 1930s at the now almost legendary Colloque Walter Lippmann and had actually been used by Hayek in at least one of his political essays in the 1940s. In that usage the point of neoliberalism was to revise and update the classical nineteenth-century liberalism that seemed to have run aground in the Great Depression, when the attempt to resurrect and restore what had been widely – and in my view mistakenly – regarded as an essential pillar of the nineteenth-century liberal order – the international gold standard – collapsed in an epic international catastrophe. The new liberalism was supposed to be a kinder and gentler — less relentlessly laissez-faire – version of the old liberalism, more amenable to interventions to aid the less well-off and to social-insurance programs providing a safety net to cushion individuals against the economic risks of modern capitalism, while preserving the social benefits and efficiencies of a market economy based on private property and voluntary exchange.

Any memory of Hayek’s use of “neo-liberalism” was blotted out by the subsequent use of the term to describe the unorthodox efforts of two young ambitious Democratic politicians, Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt to promote tax reform. Bradley, who was then a first-term Senator from New Jersey, having graduated directly from NBA stardom to the US Senate in 1978, and Gephardt, then an obscure young Congressman from Missouri, made a splash in the first term of the Reagan administration by proposing to cut income tax rates well below the rates to which Reagan had proposed when running for President, in 1980, subsequently enacted early in his first term. Bradley and Gephardt proposed cutting the top federal income tax bracket from the new 50% rate to the then almost unfathomable 30%. What made the Bradley-Gephardt proposal liberal was the idea that special-interest tax exemptions would be eliminated, so that the reduced rates would not mean a loss of tax revenue, while making the tax system less intrusive on private decision-making, improving economic efficiency. Despite cutting the top rate, Bradley and Gephardt retained the principle of progressivity by reducing the entire rate structure from top to bottom while eliminating tax deductions and tax shelters.

Here is how David Ignatius described Bradley’s role in achieving the 1986 tax reform in the Washington Post (May 18, 1986)

Bradley’s intellectual breakthrough on tax reform was to combine the traditional liberal approach — closing loopholes that benefit mainly the rich — with the supply-side conservatives’ demand for lower marginal tax rates. The result was Bradley’s 1982 “Fair Tax” plan, which proposed removing many tax preferences and simplifying the tax code with just three rates: 14 percent, 26 percent and 30 percent. Most subsequent reform plans, including the measure that passed the Senate Finance Committee this month, were modelled on Bradley’s.

The Fair Tax was an example of what Democrats have been looking for — mostly without success — for much of the last decade. It synthesized liberal and conservative ideas in a new package that could appeal to middle-class Americans. As Bradley noted in an interview this week, the proposal offered “lower rates for the middle-income people who are the backbone of America, who are paying most of the freight.” And who, it might be added, increasingly have been voting Republican in recent presidential elections.

The Bradley proposal also offered Democrats a way to shed their anti-growth, tax-and-spend image by allowing them, as Bradley says, “to advocate economic growth and fairness simultaneously.” The only problem with the idea was that it challenged the party’s penchant for soak-the-rich rhetoric and interest-group politics.

So the new liberalism of Bradley and Gephardt was an ideological movement in the opposite direction from that of the earlier version of neoliberalism; the point of neoliberalism 1.0 was to moderate classical laissez-faire liberal orthodoxy; neoliberalism 2.0 aimed to counter the knee-jerk interventionism of New Deal liberalism that favored highly progressive income taxation to redistribute income from rich to poor and price ceilings and controls to protect the poor from exploitation by ruthless capitalists and greedy landlords and as an anti-inflation policy. The impetus for reassessing mid-twentieth-century American liberalism was the evident failure in the 1970s of wage and price controls, which had been supported with little evidence of embarrassment by most Democratic economists (with the notable exception of James Tobin) when imposed by Nixon in 1971, and by the decade-long rotting residue of Nixon’s controls — controls on crude oil and gasoline prices — finally scrapped by Reagan in 1981.

Although the neoliberalism 2.0 enjoyed considerable short-term success, eventually providing the template for the 1986 Reagan tax reform, and establishing Bradley and Gephardt as major figures in the Democratic Party, neoliberalism 2.0 was never embraced by the Democratic grassroots. Gephardt himself abandoned the neo-liberal banner in 1988 when he ran for President as a protectionist, pro-Labor Democrat, providing the eventual nominee, the mildly neoliberalish Michael Dukakis, with plenty of material with which to portray Gephardt as a flip-flopper. But Dukasis’s own failure in the general election did little to enhance the prospects of neoliberalism as a winning electoral strategy. The Democratic acceptance of low marginal tax rates in exchange for eliminating tax breaks, exemptions and shelters was short-lived, and Bradley himself abandoned the approach in 2000 when he ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination from the left against Al Gore.

So the notion that “neoliberalism” has any definite meaning is as misguided as the notion that “liberalism” has any definite meaning. “Neoliberalism” now serves primarily as a term of abuse for leftists to impugn the motives of their ideological and political opponents in exactly the same way that right-wingers use “liberal” as a term of abuse — there are so many of course — with which to dismiss and denigrate their ideological and political opponents. That archetypical classical liberal Ludwig von Mises was openly contemptuous of the neoliberalism that emerged from the Colloque Walter Lipmann and of its later offspring Ordoliberalism (frequently described as the Germanic version of neoliberalism) referring to it as “neo-interventionism.” Similarly, modern liberals who view themselves as upholders of New Deal liberalism deploy “neoliberalism” as a useful pejorative epithet with which to cast a rhetorical cloud over those sharing a not so dissimilar political background or outlook but who are more willing to tolerate the outcomes of market forces than they are.

There are many liberalisms and perhaps almost as many neoliberalisms, so it’s pointless and futile to argue about which is the true or legitimate meaning of “liberalism.” However, one can at least say about the two versions of neoliberalism that I’ve mentioned that they were attempts to moderate more extreme versions of liberalism and to move toward the ideological middle of the road: from the extreme laissez-faire of classical liberalism on the one right and from the dirigisme of the New Deal on the left toward – pardon the cliché – a third way in the center.

But despite my disclaimer that there is no fixed, essential, meaning of “liberalism,” I want to suggest that it is possible to find some common thread that unites many, if not all, of the disparate strands of liberalism. I think it’s important to do so, because it wasn’t so long ago that even conservatives were able to speak approvingly about the “liberal democratic” international order that was created, largely thanks to American leadership, in the post-World War II era. That time is now unfortunately past, but it’s still worth remembering that it once was possible to agree that “liberal” did correspond to an admirable political ideal.

The deep underlying principle that I think reconciles the different strands of the best versions of liberalism is a version of Kant’s categorical imperative: treat every individual as an end not a means. Individuals must not be used merely as tools or instruments with which other individuals or groups satisfy their own purposes. If you want someone else to serve you in accomplishing your ends, that other person must provide that assistance to you voluntarily not because you require him to do so. If you want that assistance you must secure it not by command but by persuasion. Persuasion can be secured in two ways, either by argument — persuading the other person to share your objective — or if you can’t, or won’t, persuade the person to share your objective, you can still secure his or her agreement to help you by offering some form of compensation to induce the person to provide you the services you desire.

The principle has an obvious libertarian interpretation: all cooperation is secured through voluntary agreements between autonomous agents. Force and fraud are impermissible. But the Kantian ideal doesn’t necessarily imply a strictly libertarian political system. The choices of autonomous agents can — actually must — be restricted by a set of legal rules governing the conduct of those agents. And the content of those legal rules must be worked out either by legislation or by an evolutionary process of common law adjudication or some combination of the two. The content of those rules needn’t satisfy a libertarian laissez-faire standard. Rather the liberal standard that legal rules must satisfy is that they don’t prescribe or impose ends, goals, or purposes that must be pursued by autonomous agents, but simply govern the means agents can employ in pursuing their objectives.

Legal rules of conduct are like semantic rules of grammar. Like rules of grammar that don’t dictate the ideas or thoughts expressed in speech or writing, only the manner of their expression, rules of conduct don’t specify the objectives that agents seek to achieve, only the acceptable means of accomplishing those objectives. The rules of conduct need not be libertarian; some choices may be ruled out for reasons of ethics or morality or expediency or the common good. What makes the rules liberal is that they apply equally to all citizens, and that the rules allow sufficient space to agents to conduct their own lives according to their own purposes, goals, preferences, and values.

In other words, the rule of law — not the rule of particular groups, classes, occupations — prevails. Agents are subject to an impartial legal standard, not to the will or command of another agent, or of the ruler. And for this to be the case, the ruler himself must be subject to the law. But within this framework of law that imposes no common goals and purposes on agents, a good deal of collective action to provide for common purposes — far beyond the narrow boundaries of laissez-faire doctrine — is possible. Citizens can be taxed to pay for a wide range of public services that the public, through its elected representatives, decides to provide. Those elected representatives can enact legislation that governs the conduct of individuals as long as the legislation does not treat individuals differently based on irrelevant distinctions or based on criteria that disadvantage certain people unfairly.

My view that the rule of law, not laissez-faire, not income redistribution, is the fundamental value and foundation of liberalism is a view that I learned from Hayek, who, in his later life was as much a legal philosopher as an economist, but it is a view that John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin on the left, and Michael Oakeshott on the right, also shared. Hayek, indeed, went so far as to say that he was fundamentally in accord with Rawls’s magnum opus A Theory of Justice, which was supposed to have provided a philosophical justification for modern welfare-state liberalism. Liberalism is a big tent, and it can accommodate a wide range of conflicting views on economic and even social policy. What sets liberalism apart is a respect for and commitment to the rule of law and due process, a commitment that ought to take precedence over any specific policy goal or preference.

But here’s the problem. If the ruler can also make or change the laws, the ruler is not really bound by the laws, because the ruler can change the law to permit any action that the ruler wants to take. How then is the rule of law consistent with a ruler that is empowered to make the law to which he is supposedly subject. That is the dilemma that every liberal state must cope with. And for Hayek, at least, the issue was especially problematic in connection with taxation.

With the possible exception of inflation, what concerned Hayek most about modern welfare-state policies was the highly progressive income-tax regimes that western countries had adopted in the mid-twentieth century. By almost any reasonable standard, top marginal income-tax rates were way too high in the mid-twentieth century, and the economic case for reducing the top rates was compelling when reducing the top rates would likely entail little, if any, net revenue loss. As a matter of optics, reductions in the top marginal rates had to be coupled with reductions of lower tax brackets which did entail revenue losses, but reforming an overly progressive tax system without a substantial revenue loss was not that hard to do.

But Hayek’s argument against highly progressive income tax rates was based more on principle than on expediency. Hayek regarded steeply progressive income tax rates as inherently discriminatory by imposing a disproportionate burden on a minority — the wealthy — of the population. Hayek did not oppose modest progressivity to ease the tax burden on the least well-off, viewing such progressivity treating as a legitimate concession that a well-off majority could allow to a less-well-off minority. But he greatly feared attempts by the majority to shift the burden of taxation onto a well-off minority, viewing that kind of progressivity as a kind of legalized hold-up, whereby the majority uses its control of the legislature to write the rules to their own advantage at the expense of the minority.

While Hayek’s concern that a wealthy minority could be plundered by a greedy majority seems plausible, a concern bolstered by the unreasonably high top marginal rates that were in place when he wrote, he overstated his case in arguing that high marginal rates were, in and of themselves, unequal treatment. Certainly it would be discriminatory if different tax rates applied to people because of their religion or national origin or for reasons unrelated to income, but even a highly progressive income tax can’t be discriminatory on its face, as Hayek alleged, when the progressivity is embedded in a schedule of rates applicable to everyone that reaches specified income thresholds.

There are other reasons to think that Hayek went too far in his opposition to progressive tax rates. First, he assumed that earned income accurately measures the value of the incremental contribution to social output. But Hayek overlooked that much of earned income reflects either rents that are unnecessary to call forth the efforts required to earn that income, in which case increasing the marginal tax rate on such earnings does not diminish effort and output. We also know as a result of a classic 1971 paper by Jack Hirshleifer that earned incomes often do not correspond to net social output. For example, incomes earned by stock and commodity traders reflect only in part incremental contributions to social output; they also reflect losses incurred by other traders. So resources devoted to acquiring information with which to make better predictions of future prices add less to output than those resources are worth, implying a net reduction in total output. Insofar as earned incomes reflect not incremental contributions to social output but income transfers from other individuals, raising taxes on those incomes can actually increase aggregate output.

So the economic case for reducing marginal tax rates is not necessarily more compelling than the philosophical case, and the economic arguments certainly seem less compelling than they did some three decades ago when Bill Bradley, in his youthful neoliberal enthusiasm, argued eloquently for drastically reducing marginal rates while broadening the tax base. Supporters of reducing marginal tax rates still like to point to the dynamic benefits of increasing incentives to work and invest, but they don’t acknowledge that earned income does not necessarily correspond closely to net contributions to aggregate output.

Drastically reducing the top marginal rate from 70% to 28% within five years, greatly increased the incentive to earn high incomes. The taxation of high incomes having been reducing so drastically, the number of people earning very high incomes since 1986 has grown very rapidly. Does that increase in the number of people earning very high incomes reflect an improvement in the overall economy, or does it reflect a shift in the occupational choices of talented people? Since the increase in very high incomes has not been associated with an increase in the overall rate of economic growth, it hardly seems obvious that the increase in the number of people earning very high incomes is closely correlated with the overall performance of the economy. I suspect rather that the opportunity to earn and retain very high incomes has attracted a many very talented people into occupations, like financial management, venture capital, investment banking, and real-estate brokerage, in which high incomes are being earned, with correspondingly fewer people choosing to enter less lucrative occupations. And if, as I suggested above, these occupations in which high incomes are being earned often contribute less to total output than lower-paying occupations, the increased opportunity to earn high incomes has actually reduced overall economic productivity.

Perhaps the greatest effect of reducing marginal income tax rates has been sociological. I conjecture that, as a consequence of reduced marginal income tax rates, the social status and prestige of people earning high incomes has risen, as has the social acceptability of conspicuous — even brazen — public displays of wealth. The presumption that those who have earned high incomes and amassed great fortunes are morally deserving of those fortunes, and therefore entitled to deference and respect on account of their wealth alone, a presumption that Hayek himself warned against, seems to be much more widely held now than it was forty or fifty years ago. Others may take a different view, but I find this shift towards increased respect and admiration for the wealthy, curiously combined with a supposedly populist political environment, to be decidedly unedifying.

Afshin Rattansi Asks What Boris Johnson Is Doing in South America

In this short clip from RT’s ‘Going Underground’, host Afshin Rattani raises the question of what Boris Johnson is doing in Chile, Argentina and Peru, and reminds his viewers of the atrocities committed by Chile’s bloody dictator, General Pinochet. Johnson began a tour of these countries yesterday. Rattansi describes all of these countries as allegedly America’s proxies, but particularly Chile. He tells how Pinochet was warmly supported by Johnson’s heroine, Margaret Thatcher. Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende, in a CIA-backed coup. The dictator was responsible for the murder and disappearance of 40,000 people. There is a sequence, in which Raymond Peredes, the son of the head of the Chilean army under president Allende, describes what happened to his father. He had every bone in his body broken, and was burned with a flame thrower before finally being shot with 20 bullets. His killers, however, did not touch his head, because they wanted him to remain conscious.

Pinochet was arrested by the Labour government after he came to London, following a warrant put out by a Spanish examining magistrate, judge Baltazar Garzon, who charged him with genocide. There is also a clip of Jeremy Corbyn stating that Pinochet does not enjoy diplomatic immunity from the charges, which including hostage-taking, genocide and extraterritorial murder.

But the old brute was defended by Maggie Thatcher, here looking even more aged, decrepit and malignly insane than ever. Thatcher stated that he’d been a good friend and ally of Britain, but now, thanks to his arrest, his health had been broken and the esteem of Britain’s courts around the world damage. So, as you might expect from a Tory premier, who backed Fascists and Fascist death squads throughout Latin America, there’s plenty of sympathy for him and none whatsoever for the tens of thousands he tortured and murdered. After his arrest, he was released by Tony Blair’s government. Rattansi continues that today the country is in the grip of more neoliberal change, which the opposition claims will cause further poverty.

Rattansi goes on to cover Argentina, where he says that Margaret Thatcher arguably helped end one American proxy dictator after she won the Malvinas/Falklands War. However, he states that ‘the bad old days’ could be returning, because the country’s president, Macri, has just taken out a loan with the IMF. Rattansi goes on to report how the president of Peru, Martin Vizcarra, hasn’t been elected yet. He only took power after his predecessor was forced to resign in a corruption scandal. But he was first to welcome US vice-president, when he touched down last week. The clip ends with Pence stating that all Latin America’s problems are due to the president of Venezuela, Maduro.

From this it seems that Boris has gone to these countries, to wee what Britain can pick up once neoliberalism hits these nations once again. In return for loans, the IMF insists that countries approaching it for aid scale down their welfare spending and privatise their state industries, usually by selling them to the Americans. It’s been described as part of the international network of American corporate imperialism. My guess is that Johnson is hoping that we might be able to buy some of the privatised industries in Argentina and also Chile and Peru. And it’s always good to remind people just how nasty Pinochet was, as well as Thatcher’s deep affection for the butcher. This tells you exactly what kind of person Thatcher was, and what kinds of people those who continue to idolise her, like BoJo, are.

As for Blair’s arrest of Pinochet, that was hopelessly bungled. There was a question about it at the time on the Beeb’s News Quiz on Radio 4. Clive Anderson, who is a lawyer as well as comedian and broadcaster, stated that in situations like that, nations are supposed to issue warning notices that particular individuals will not be welcome in their countries and would be subject to arrest before they arrived there. Blair didn’t. Chile did help us during the Falklands War, which is partly why Thatcher defended him. But he was still a brutal dictator, responsible for horrific and indescribable crimes.

The Simulation of Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/05/2018 - 6:57pm in

One of the most complicated and frustrating aspects of operating a global capitalist empire is maintaining the fiction that it doesn’t exist. Virtually every action you take has to be carefully recontextualized or otherwise spun for public consumption. Every time you want to bomb or invade some country to further your interests, you have to mount a whole PR campaign. You can’t even appoint a sadistic torture freak to run your own coup-fomenting agency, or shoot a few thousand unarmed people you’ve imprisoned in a de facto ghetto, without having to do a big song and dance about “defending democracy” and “democratic values.”

Naked despotism is so much simpler, not to mention more emotionally gratifying. Ruling an empire as a godlike dictator means never having to say you’re sorry. You can torture and kill anyone you want, and conquer and exploit whichever countries you want, without having to explain yourself to anyone. Also, you get to have your humongous likeness muraled onto the walls of buildings, make people swear allegiance to you, and all that other cool dictator stuff.

Global capitalists do not have this luxury. Generating the simulation of democracy that most Western consumers desperately need in order to be able to pretend to believe that they are not just smoothly-functioning cogs in the machinery of a murderous global empire managed by a class of obscenely wealthy and powerful international elites to whom their lives mean exactly nothing, although extremely expensive and time-consuming, is essential to maintaining their monopoly on power. Having conditioned most Westerners into believing they are “free,” and not just glorified peasants with gadgets, the global capitalist ruling classes have no choice but to keep up this fiction. Without it, their empire would fall apart at the seams.

This is the devil’s bargain modern capitalism made back in the 18th Century. In order to wrest power from the feudal aristocracies that had dominated the West throughout the Middle Ages, the bourgeoisie needed to sell the concept of “democracy” to the unwashed masses, who they needed both to staff their factories and, in some cases, to fight revolutionary wars, or depose and publicly guillotine monarchs. All that gobbledegook about taxes, tariffs, and the unwieldy structure of the feudal system was not the easiest sell to the peasantry. “Liberty” and “equality” went over much better. So “democracy” became their rallying cry, and, eventually, the official narrative of capitalism. The global capitalist ruling classes have been stuck with “democracy” ever since, or, more accurately, with the simulation of democracy.

The purpose of this simulation of democracy is not to generate fake democracy and pass it off as real democracy. Its purpose is to generate the concept of democracy, the only form in which democracy exists. It does this by casting a magic spell (which I’ll do my best to demystify in a moment) that deceives us into perceiving the capitalist marketplace we Westerners inhabit, not as a market, but as a society. An essentially democratic society. Not a fully fledged democratic society, but a society progressing toward “democracy” … which it is, and simultaneously isn’t.

Obviously, life under global capitalism is more democratic than under feudal despotism, not to mention more comfortable and entertaining. Capitalism isn’t “evil” or “bad.” It’s a machine. Its fundamental function is to eliminate any and all despotic values and replace them with a single value, i.e., exchange value, determined by the market. This despotic-value-decoding machine is what freed us from the tyranny of kings and priests, which it did by subjecting us to the tyranny of capitalists and the meaningless value of the so-called free market, wherein everything is just another commodity … toothpaste, cell phones, healthcare, food, education, cosmetics, et cetera. Despite that, only an idiot would argue that capitalism is not preferable to despotism, or that it hasn’t increased our measure of freedom. So, yes, we have evolved toward democracy, if we’re comparing modern capitalism to medieval feudalism.

The problem is that capitalism is never going to lead to actual democracy (i.e., government by and for the people). This is never going to happen. In fact, capitalism has already reached the limits of the freedom it can safely offer us. This freedom grants us the ability to make an ever-expanding variety of choices … none of which have much to do with democracy. For example, Western consumers are free to work for whatever corporation they want, and to buy whatever products they want, and to assume as much debt as the market will allow to purchase a home wherever they want, and to worship whichever gods they want (as long as they conform their behavior to the values of capitalism and not their religion), and men can transform themselves into women, and white people can deem themselves African Americans, or Native Americans, or whatever they want, and anyone can mock or insult the President or the Queen of England on Facebook and Twitter, none of which freedoms were even imaginable, much less possible, under feudal despotism.

But this is as far as our “freedom” goes. The global capitalist ruling classes are never going to allow us to govern ourselves, not in any meaningful way. In fact, since the mid-1970s, they’ve been systematically dismantling the framework of social democracy throughout the West, and otherwise relentlessly privatizing everything. They’ve been doing this more slowly in Europe, where social democracy is more entrenched, but, make no mistake, American “society” is the model for our dystopian future. The ruling classes and their debt-enslaved servants, protected from the desperate masses by squads of hyper-militarized police, medicated in their sanitized enclaves, watching Westworld on Amazon Prime as their shares in private prisons rise and the forces of democracy defend their freedom by slaughtering men, women, and children in some faraway country they can’t find on a map, and would never visit on vacation anyway … this is where the USA already is, and where the rest of the West is headed.

Which is why it is absolutely crucial to maintain the simulation of democracy, and the fiction that we’re still living in a world where major geopolitical events are determined by sovereign nations and their leaders, rather than by global corporations and a class of supranational elites whose primary allegiance is to global capitalism, rather than to any specific nation, much less to the actual people who live there. The global capitalist ruling classes need the masses in the West to believe that they live in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and so on, and not in a global marketplace. Because, if it’s all one global marketplace, with one big global labor force (which global corporations can exploit with impunity), and if it’s one big global financial system (where the economies of supposed adversaries like China and the United States, or the European Union and Russia, are almost totally interdependent), then there is no United States of America, no United Kingdom, no France, no Germany … or not as we’re conditioned to perceive them. There is only the global capitalist empire, divided into “national” market territories, each performing slightly different administrative functions within the empire … and those territories that have not yet surrendered their sovereignty and been absorbed into it. I think you know which those territories are.

But getting back to the simulation of democracy (the purpose of which is to prevent us from perceiving the world as I just suggested above), how that works is, we are all conditioned to believe we are living in these imperfect democracies, which are inexorably evolving toward “real” democracy but just haven’t managed to get there quite yet. “Real” being the key word here, because there is no such thing as real democracy. There never has been, except among relatively small and homogenous groups of people. Like Baudrillard’s Disneyland, “Western democracy” is presented to us as “imperfect” or “unfinished” (in other words, as a replica of “real democracy”) in order to convince us that there exists such a thing as “real democracy,” which we will achieve … someday.

This is how simulations work. The replica does not exist to deceive us into believing it is the “real” thing. It exists to convince us that there is a “real” thing. In essence, it invokes the “real” thing by pretending to be a copy of it. Just as the images of God in church invoke the “god” of which they are copies (if only in the minds of the faithful), our imperfect replica of democracy invokes the concept of “real democracy” (which does not exist, and has never existed, beyond the level of tribes and bands).

This is, of course, ceremonial magic … but then so is everything else, really. Take out a twenty dollar bill, or a twenty Euro note, or your driver’s license. They are utterly valueless, except as symbols, but no less powerful for being just symbols. Or look at some supposedly solid object under an electron microscope. Try this with a tablespoon. As that bald kid in The Matrix put it, you will “realize that there is no spoon,” or, rather, that there is only the spoon we’ve created by believing that there is a spoon.

Look, I don’t mean to get all spooky. What that kid (among various others throughout history) was trying to get us to understand is that we create reality, collectively, with symbols … or we allow reality to be created for us. Our collective reality is also our religion, in that we live our lives and raise our children according to its precepts and values, regardless of whatever other rituals we may or may not engage in on the weekend. Western consumers, no matter whether nominally Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, or of any other faith, live their lives and raise their children according to the values and rules of capitalism. Capitalism is our religion. Like every religion, it has a cosmology.

In the cosmology of global capitalism, “democracy” is capitalist heaven. We hear it preached about throughout our lives, we’re surrounded by graven images of it, but we don’t get to see it until we’re dead. Attempting to storm its pearly gates, or to create the Kingdom of Democracy on Earth, is heresy, and is punishable by death. Denying its existence is blasphemy, for which the punishment is excommunication, and consignment to the City of Dis, where the lost souls shout back and forth at each other across the lower depths of the Internet, their infernal voices unheard by the faithful … but, hey, don’t take the word of an apostate like me. Go ahead, try it, and see what happens.

CJ Hopkins
First published in CounterPunch, May 23, 2018.

 

CJH 2017 300DISCLAIMER: The preceding essay is entirely the work of our in-house satirist and self-appointed political pundit, CJ Hopkins, and does not reflect the views or opinions of the Consent Factory, Inc., its staff, or any of its agents, subsidiaries, or assigns. If, for whatever inexplicable reasons, you appreciate Mr. Hopkins’ work and would like to support it, please go to his Patreon page (where you can contribute as little $1 a month), or send a contribution to his PayPal account, so that maybe he’ll stop coming around our offices trying to hit our staff up for money. Alternatively, you could purchase his novel, Zone 23, which we hear is pretty funny, or any of his subversive stage plays, or come find him in Berlin and buy him a beer. He’s been known to frequent an assortment of extremely suspicious RUSSIAN establishments in Kreuzberg. Here he is at one of them, waiting to seditiously eat a plate of pelmeni or something.

How economics professors can stop failing us

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/05/2018 - 3:30pm in

Many students today continue to be deceived by their professors who, even after the great financial crisis, still teach a fantasy, or other worldly version of economics. So on this program we ask: How do we begin to reverse a heavily entrenched education system that manufactures economists that have such a detrimental effect on wider society? Joining us to discuss how academics are failing us: renegade economist, Professor Steve Keen, and author and economist, Dr Steven Payson.

The post How economics professors can stop failing us appeared first on Renegade Inc.

How economics professors can stop failing us

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/05/2018 - 3:30pm in

Many students today continue to be deceived by their professors who, even after the great financial crisis, still teach a fantasy, or other worldly version of economics. So on this program we ask: How do we begin to reverse a heavily entrenched education system that manufactures economists that have such a detrimental effect on wider society? Joining us to discuss how academics are failing us: renegade economist, Professor Steve Keen, and author and economist, Dr Steven Payson.

The post How economics professors can stop failing us appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Book Review: Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures edited by Yvette Taylor and Kinneret Lahad

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/05/2018 - 10:28pm in

Edited by Yvette Taylor and Kinneret Lahad, the collection Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures offers a vital reassertion of feminist modes of resistance against the increasingly corporate structures of contemporary higher education. This is an incisive, timely and ultimately hopeful volume that provides a platform from which future feminist fights can take flight, writes Charlotte Mathieson.

Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures. Yvette Taylor and Kinneret Lahad (eds). Palgrave Macmillan. 2018.

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It is all too easy when reviewing academic books to refer to collections as ‘timely’, ‘pressing’ or ‘wide-reaching’, but these words can be no more sincerely meant than in the case of Yvette Taylor and Kinneret Lahad’s Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University: Feminist Flights, Fights and Failures. In the wake of the widespread strike action across UK universities in recent months, and ensuing discussions about the marketisation of higher education, academic precarity and the relationship between the individual and the institution, Taylor and Lahad’s work is more pertinent and necessary than ever.

Positing feminism as a critical mode to challenge and critique ‘the interlocking structures of domination’ (3) through which the neoliberal university operates, the chapters in Feeling Academic in the Neoliberal University offer a vital reassertion of feminist approaches as a mode of resistance against the corporate and commercial structures of contemporary higher education, while also privileging the role of the feminist academic at an individual level as a powerful agent of change. The critical interventions that ensue are incisive and important, and will resonate with scholars across the higher education sector.

Central to this endeavour is a renewed focus on how academia is experienced at the level of the individual by exploring the performative aspects of being a scholar: the material, embodied, affective qualities of what it means to inhabit the neoliberal institution as a feminist academic. The navigation of institutional structures is firstly picked up in chapters assessing the time and space of academia. Barbara Read and Lisa Bradley’s essay on ‘waiting’ in everyday academic life – encompassing everything from the practicalities of waiting for transport to arrive or for a meeting to start, to the less tangible experiences of waiting on a funding decision or an important email – presents pertinent reflections on the temporal dynamics of academia in confluence with social and identity relations, issues that are picked up again in Emily Henderson’s study of ‘conference time’ as it is experienced by scholars. Both chapters offer interesting critiques of what it means to ‘be’ in the academy, and how normative structures such as time (as well as space) are negotiated in diverse, and often difficult, ways by those who don’t embody the expected ideal of ‘an academic’.

What it means to occupy space within the academy, and ‘to experience and feel academia’ (1), is taken up further in chapters examining the emotional dimensions of navigating institutional environments. Taylor’s exploration of class and sexuality makes visible the emotional labour involved in working in an academic environment that purports a narrative of inclusivity and diversity, yet in practice is far from it, and conceptualises the emotional ‘stickiness’ that arises from occupying such disjunctures (61), while Daphna Hacker’s chapter seeks to establish a dialogue about the embodied affects of academic labour through a discussion of ‘crying on campus’ as a challenge to the masculine model of an individualised and unemotional academia.

Image Credit: (Richie Diesterheft CC BY SA 2.0)

The emotional labour of academia leads into discussions that consider the complexity of the feelings involved in attempting to live up to institutionalised value systems. Heather Shipley contextualises the key issue through an examination of what it means to be ‘a partial academic’: someone who has completed PhD study and is developing an early career academic profile while working in non-academic employment. This position affords perspectives on the competitiveness of academia and the standards against which individuals are constantly evaluated and quantified, and Shipley suggests that while academia might claim to promote feminism on some levels, as a system it ‘undermines and devalues feminist pursuits, rewarding instead decidedly nonfeminist goals through competition and individual achievement over group endeavours’ (18). In a brilliantly incisive critique of one of the core rhetorical devices through which the neoliberal university achieves its competitive ends, Francesca Coin examines the narrative of ‘loving what we do’ as a means for academic exploitation: as she writes:

the use of love as an emotional resource capable of delivering endurance in a vicious cycle of unrenumerated overload seals the diabolical pact between an exploitative labour regime and its prey (315).

As several chapters identify, in navigating this system many academics find themselves caught within a tension between ‘playing the game’ and finding strategies of resistance therein. The negotiation of this dynamic emerges lucidly in Sarah Burton’s chapter on feminist academics’ experiences of writing for (and against) the Research Excellence Framework. Burton neatly elucidates one of the key messages of the book as a whole:

feminist fragility in the neoliberal academy stems from the way that the value system of the neoliberal academy and the audit cultures it allows to thrive is driven by a patriarchal conception of legitimate knowledge production (132).

Within this, Burton examines how academic writing is used by feminist academics both as a tool to successfully play the game, but also as a space of resistance.

This theme is also embodied by Lauren Ila Misiaszek’s work on academic identity within Chinese academia. Constructing what she terms an ‘autoethnonegraphy’ (88), Misiaszek interweaves an array of textual forms to construct a deliberately disruptive critique of academic writing conventions in order to effectively convey the ‘messy’ embodiments of the academic environment. However, as these writers and others acknowledge, the extent to which academics have agency within institutional structures and strictures is contoured by privileges of identity and position within the academy. Órla Meadhbh Murray’s work on being ‘the feminist killjoy’ in academia recognises that inhabiting the role of a challenging feminist presence is a risk for precarious early career academics; furthermore, this is not always a role that one might actively choose to inhabit, and ‘sometimes existing in a space is enough to be seen as a killjoy regardless of one’s political intentions’ (164).

Throughout the chapters, the need for feminist spaces of collective resistance against the neoliberal academy emerges strongly, and several chapters identify promising potential for alternative models of research and teaching. Susanne Gannon, Sarah Powell and Clare Power offer a collective exploration of collaborative practice as a counter to the separatist competitive ideology that characterises the neoliberal university, while Cristina Costa’s chapter on digital technologies such as blogs and social media offers the potential for alternative spaces through which to construct and examine feminist identities in ways that reconfigure individual agency both away from and in dialogue with the expectations and value systems of the academy. These chapters embody a feeling of hope that runs through the book which, while recognising that feminism in the academy is under threat, works to create a vital space for feminism as a mode for resisting, critiquing and changing the neoliberal discourse of contemporary academia, and provides a platform from which future feminist fights can take flight.

Dr Charlotte Mathieson is a Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century English Literature in the School of Literature and Languages at the University of Surrey. Her publications include Mobility in the Victorian Novel: Placing the Nation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) and Sea Narratives: Cultural Responses to the Sea, 1600-present (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). She is Chair of the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association UK & Ireland, co-convenes the Transport and Mobility History Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, London, and is co-editor of the series Palgrave Studies in Mobilities, Literature and Culture.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


Syria: neoliberalism vs sovereignty

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/05/2018 - 3:30pm in

The more we hear about Syria, the less we understand. The mixed messages that come from the media seem only to add more confusion. Having been hoodwinked into wars in the Middle East before, the British people are naturally skeptical. So beyond the headlines what's the real geopolitical play that's going on and why is it occurring? We travelled to Singapore to meet Professor Ali Kadri, a Middle Eastern economist who understands the geopolitical play and gives us an unvarnished look into what's at stake, the forces driving the Syrian conflict, and the wider problems across the Middle East.

The post Syria: neoliberalism vs sovereignty appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Syria: neoliberalism vs sovereignty

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/05/2018 - 3:30pm in

The more we hear about Syria, the less we understand. The mixed messages that come from the media seem only to add more confusion. Having been hoodwinked into wars in the Middle East before, the British people are naturally skeptical. So beyond the headlines what's the real geopolitical play that's going on and why is it occurring? We travelled to Singapore to meet Professor Ali Kadri, a Middle Eastern economist who understands the geopolitical play and gives us an unvarnished look into what's at stake, the forces driving the Syrian conflict, and the wider problems across the Middle East.

The post Syria: neoliberalism vs sovereignty appeared first on Renegade Inc.

A brief comment on the Argentinian Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/05/2018 - 2:13am in

This was faster than even I expected (for my views on what Macri meant as soon as he was elected see this and for a more recent assessment go to this post). Let me first say that I don't think is quite like the 2001/02 crisis. It is unlikely that there will be a default anytime soon. The level of reserves is at about US$ 56 billion, and the IMF is happy to finance the very Neoliberal government of Macri (because the IMF has changed a lot, remember?).

The economy with Macri has not performed very well, as expected. Inflation has remained high, since the depreciation of the peso has persisted, and that was no accident. It allowed to erode real wages, which I noted from the beginning was part of their goals. Also, the rate of growth has been lackluster, and if the IMF is to be believed real GDP growth in his first two years was on average at around 0.5 percent. Again, I don't think that has been a central concern (even if they suggest the opposite). Note that again a relatively low rate of growth (as per Okun's Law) leads to slow job growth (formal unemployment is above Cristina Kirchner), and less wages pressures. In Argentina, economic policy is truly geared towards containing wage resistance, when you get a Neoliberal administration.

Macri's policies are essentially the same as the Neoliberal policies of Menem (and his finance minister Domingo Cavallo, who is back, and defending Macri), minus the fixed exchange rate system. The notion was that a flexible exchange rate with inflation targeting would basically provide the same price stability as Convertibility in the 1990s, without the balance of payments problems that led to the 2001-02 debacle. Btw, this idea that one could use either a very rigid or a very flexible exchange rate regime (but nothing in between, and certainly not capital controls) was really the exchange rate policy of the Washington Consensus and was made famous by Stan Fischer as the Bipolar Consensus.*

So Macri liberalized the foreign exchange market, further liberalized imports, in crucial sectors where there was a significant repressed consumption by the middle and upper classes, like electronics, and that led to a significant increase in imports, not matched by increases in exports (even with the depreciation of the peso; as it turns the depreciation of the currency is inflationary, and by reducing real wages, contractionary, but it does not increase exports by a lot, which depend on foreigners incomes for the most part; who could have foreseen such an effect!), and they resort to foreign borrowing to close the gap. Again using IMF numbers, that are estimated for 2017 (and I should note and not very reliable since inflation data is also not very good. A bit enervating given how much the opposition to the Kirchners complained about the quality of inflation data, and the notion that would not happen with them) we get the following picture for the current account (CA).

Clearly the external situation has worsened significantly. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the recent run on the peso has been caused directly by the CA position. This is more like the long term problem. If you liberalize imports, and the patterns of consumption are such that imports explode, but your pattern of specialization is the production of commodities, and you solve this by borrowing in foreign currency, it cannot end up very well. And it won't. Btw, yes I did say back in 2016 that foreign debt driven growth was dangerous and eventually unsustainable at the time that Moody's was upgrading Argentina. So what caused the recent run on the peso, you ask. Not sure, to be frank.

The Fed in the US has been signaling higher rates (and they went up a bit), and that causes trouble for sure. And the Macri team, which has some from the Menem/de la Rúa Neoliberal Era (like Sturzenegger at the Central Bank), is not very competent (not sure why FT thinks they are pragmatic and in between the Neoliberals of Menem and the 'heterodox' of the Kirchners), and kept interest rate really low (for distributive reasons alluded above) allowing for depreciation. At any rate, the turbulence might be temporary, but the issue is not, and Argentina is headed for more problems.

* On this John Williamson, and his views on competitive exchange rates, did not reflect well what the consensus in Washington (meaning the IMF, World Bank and the US Treasury) really thought.

PS: If you read Spanish, you must check this short piece by Fabián Amico and Mariano de Miguel (h/t Edurado Crespo). Best I've read so far.

PS2: Forgot this one by Claudio Scaletta in Página/12, also worth reading, as everything Claudio writes.

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