Sunday, February 27, 2011

A revolution against neoliberalism? - Understanding what we are fighting

A revolution against neoliberalism? - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

This article on Aljazeera focuses on Egypt but could just as well help explain what is happening to the middle class anywhere in the US.

Here is a simple explanation of where we are going in this country:
What is neoliberalism? In his Brief History of Neoliberalism, the eminent social geographer David Harvey outlined "a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade." Neoliberal states guarantee, by force if necessary, the "proper functioning" of markets; where markets do not exist (for example, in the use of land, water, education, health care, social security, or environmental pollution), then the state should create them.

Guaranteeing the sanctity of markets is supposed to be the limit of legitimate state functions, and state interventions should always be subordinate to markets. All human behavior, and not just the production of goods and services, can be reduced to market transactions.

And the application of utopian neoliberalism in the real world leads to deformed societies

In these societies the very rich have one foot in government and the other in big business so they are perfectly positioned to take of advantage of the privatization of government services.

Take this a step further to how Neoliberalism is implemented. The best example of this is Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine:

Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine — a searing indictment of neoliberalism which argues that the free-market fundamentalism promoted by economist Milton Friedman (and immensely influential in the United States) is predicated on restructuring economies in the wake of catastrophic disruptions because normally functioning societies and political systems would never vote for it. Disruptions can be natural or man-made, such as … revolutions.

The chapters in The Shock Doctrine on Poland, Russia, and South Africa make interesting reading in the context of Egypt’s revolution (and Wisconsin!). In each case when governments (communist or apartheid) collapsed, "technocrats" were brought in to help run countries that were suddenly without functional governments, and create the institutional infrastructure for their successors. The technocrats always seemed to have dispensed a form of what Klein calls "shock therapy" — the imposition of sweeping privatization programs before dazed populations could consider their options and potentially vote for less ideologically pure options that are in their own interests.

Our "Shock" has of course been the recent recession which is actually ongoing for Main Street and the working and middle classes. This opportunity to privatize is personified by the two Governor Scott's efforts to privatize and benefit their cronies (Koch and health care execs) as they proceed. It is so easy to think we are fighting against corrupt individuals or institutions when in reality we are fighting a whole ideology supported by a confluence of government and business including the media business. Its the System! We also need to realize that the Dems are also neoliberal including Clintons and Obama and this explains their disturbing positions on education and other public services.

Finally as Veterans we need to understand the Military's position. We can immediately see how the contractors fit into the picture but it goes further as you look at the huge sums invested in the Military that benefit private industry. The article addresses how the Egyptian military, now in charge, benefited from Neoliberalism under Mubarak:

Military spending itself was also lucrative because it included both a state budget and contracts with American companies that provided hardware and technical expertise. The United States provided much of the financing for this spending under rules that required a great deal of the money to be recycled to American corporations, but all such deals required middlemen. Who better to act as an intermediary for American foreign aid contracts than men from the very same military designated as the recipient of the services paid for by this aid? In this respect the Egyptian military-industrial complex was again stealing a page from the American playbook; indeed, to the extent that the Egyptian military benefited from American foreign aid, Egypt was part of the American military-industrial complex, which is famous for its revolving-door system of recycling retired military men as lobbyists and employees of defense contractors.

Again proximity to power translates into individual enrichment.

It may seem that the odds are totally against us (and they probably are). Our advantages are knowledge and numbers (and those numbers actually control our society with their work and services). So I see our strategy as being to get the word out of what is really happening. The media is part of the problem so we need to create our own media on the street corner and in print and online. As an educational institution this perfectly fits the VFP mission.

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