On Truth and Knowledge: “Neoliberalism is Dead”

The expression ‘knowledge itself is power’ occurs in Sir Francis Bacon’s Meditationes Sacrae (1597). Basically the more one knows, the more one will be able to control events – it’s about being aware of something, and having information. Knowledge is really about facts and ideas that we acquire through study, research, investigation, observation, or experience. Wisdom is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable to your life. Bacon criticizes prejudices and false opinions, especially the system of speculation established by theologians, as an obstacle to the progress of science, together with any authoritarian stance in scholarly matters. According to Bacon, human understanding is determined by feelings and passion that corrupt it, for this reason human knowledge cannot be reduced to its intellectual components. Another problem is individuals have conceived ideas as weapons that help to fulfil desires or interests, rather than the discovery of truth.

With respect to truth and knowledge, Nietzsche observes convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies, subsequently he declared “God is dead” He was concerned that God is dead in the hearts and minds of his own generation of modern man – killed by an indifference that was itself directly related to a pronounced cultural shift away from faith and towards rationalism and science. This was an academic debate at a time when the major social sector in late 19th century consisted of farmers and domestic help. His thinking challenged the dominate ideology – religion – that provides order to society and controls how man thinks was breaking down. Ideology controls the masses – ideologies conceal essential aspects of social and political reality. The concealing aspects of ideology are not accidental (i.e. not simply errors) but relate systematically to a set of social and cognitive interests of the elites. Nietzsche observes truth is simply the name given to the point of view of the people who have the power to enforce their point of view.

During the 20th century a new social class appeared. By the 1950s industrial workers had become the largest single group in every developed country, and unionized industrial workers in mass production industries had obtained upper middle-class income levels. Labour unions emerged as the most powerful and organized political force. Thirty-five years later, in 1990s, industrial workers and unions were in retreat. Whereas industrial workers who make and move things accounted for 40% of the American work force in the 1950s, by 1990 they accounted for less than 20% – no more than they accounted for prior to World War I. By 2010, in every developed country, industrial workers account for less than 12% of the workforce. In parallel with the decline of blue-collar workers, the neoliberal ideology was promoted amongst the rich, the bankers, the mainstream economists and the media.1

Bruce Schneier notes the first listing in a Google search result gets a third of the clicks, and if you are not on the first page, you may as well not exist. The result is that the internet you see is increasingly tailored to what your profile indicates your interests are. This leads to a phenomena that political activist Eli Pariser has called the ‘filter bubble’ – basically an internet optimized to your preferences where you never have to encounter an opinion you don’t agree with. He warned us that Facebook and Google’s personalization tools would drive us to become ever more partisan by showing us only the news and information with which we already agreed. The algorithms feed each of us information that supports views we already have, and creates the conditions for us to be more susceptible to falsehoods.2 The Internet is not a tool for transparency, it actually combines your biases with data manipulation, and you get the opposite result of the new enlightenment that was supposed to come with the digital age.

By the mid-2000’s with its explosion in popularity and reliance on search engines, journalists and bloggers were more interested in attracting the attention of search engines than they were of direct viewers. Sites essentially lived and died by their page ranking. However, as the web switched from search engine based to social media driven, there was a gigantic shift. Getting readers to click on headlines and share articles is what Breitbart and many sites want. Under Bannon Brietbart developed right wing clickbait headlines such as the hidden camera expose of community group ACORN. By the time several inquiries cleared ACORN of serious wrongdoing, the 40-year-old organisation had shut its doors, and Breitbart had claimed a major scalp. Despite this, it becomes a media source that more and more people turned for their information. Breitbart News’ power was most in evidence during Donald Trump’s election campaign.

The economic elite use social media to create confusion and advance a neoliberal agenda. Not only is the manipulation difficult to detect, it is more difficult to combat than any other types of censorship, such as web-site blocking because it is dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it. The fabrication of grass roots support for economic policies on social media creates a closed loop in which the system essentially endorses itself, leaving independent groups and ordinary citizens on the outside. President Duterte admitted paying people for a social media campaign in which volunteers and paid persons or groups used social media accounts to promote him or defend him against critics. Donald Trump understands social media has a much more powerful reach than any other media channel – the entire world is glued to their phones around the clock. However, Duterte and Trump quickly become tools of the oligarchs.

At one time it was believed that the Internet was going to be the greatest tool for expression and democracy. The ready availability of online information reduces people’s retention of facts – they have lower rates of recall of information itself and enhanced recall instead where to access it. Using Google gives people the sense that the Internet has become part of their own cognitive tool set. In recall experiments the information lifted from the web page became a product that resided inside the study participants own memories allows them to effectively take credit for knowing things that were a product of Google’s search algorithm. Ideas on the web tend to be about problem solving, while opinions on the web are mostly theatre, in which emotions drive decision-making. The advent of the information age seems to have created individuals who feel they know more than ever before – when their reliance on the internet means they may know ever less about the world around them.

The Medieval church became the most dominant institution in western Europe. It was one of the largest landowners of the time and collected rents and many fees for offices and services. The church did not pay taxes. Its top down structure facilitated control of information and the creation of wealth, ultimately ensuring the abuse of power. The trickle down economic theory was rebranded in the 1970s to an ideology – supply side economics – the doctrine that tax cuts could be had for free (incentive effects would generate new activity hence more revenue) without causing budget deficits. Its creators never believed trickle-down economics worked – it was an ideology that was created to unite the right. Social media is a tool for counting, quantifying and tracking – which facilitates creating algorithms describing the pattern of behaviour characteristics of all subjects within group X. Neoliberals, recognizing their waning control of their ideology over the working class, are in the process of replacing it with data points from social media (i.e. Cambridge Analytica).

By developing a psychological profile using Facebook likes it is possible to develop algorithms to control and manipulate targeted populations for political purposes. Psychographic profiling of the electorate allows further segmenting of personality types into specific subgroups who are susceptible to precisely targeted persuasion messages attached to an issue they care about. Rather than a problem of social justice, data considers a problem knowledge – we just have to tweak the algorithm so that it works better. Its not that society is unequal – but that our algorithm isn’t functioning as well as it should. The advantage of data is it eliminates the problems of justice, leaving us with the conviction we now live in a classless society – in a flat and merocratic world. This data created by the economic elite supports the appearance that everyone is included, that everyone has a voice and that their voices count. From this perspective the only injustices are making false claims about exclusion, marginalization, and oppression.

Neoliberals stake their claim on data in which quantifiable behaviour counts, more or less, as political participation and enfranchisement, such that economic elite become even more deeply invested in developing more ways to quantify the behaviour (or opinion) of the working class. This data supports a ‘consensus’ society that they believe is legitimate because its rules are merely formulations of what people already do already.3 The Occupy Wall Street protest following the 2008 recession claims neoliberal ideology supports a system that allows control of information and the redistribution of wealth upwards. Joseph Stiglitz says the consensus surrounding neoliberal economic thought has come to an end – that an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth has now been pretty much disproved.4 As more and more become aware the Western world’s reliance on neoliberalism providing order to society and meaning of how the economic system functions is a failure – neoliberalism is dead. To drive change it is necessary to apply this knowledge using classical contract theory in which all agree/consent to the rules of society as we move forward on a path to economic democracy.

1 Druker, Peter. (November 2016) The Age of Social Transformation. https://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/95dec/chilearn/drucker.htm

2 Newhoff, David. (25 Feb 2015) The Illusion of More. http://illusionofmore.com/social-media-manipulate/

3 James, Robin. (30 May 2014) Social Media, Because Neoliberalism? https://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2014/05/30/social-media-because-neoliberalism/

4 Martin, Will. (19 Aug 2016) Nobel Prize-winning economist Stiglitz tells us why ‘neoliberalism is dead’ http://uk.businessinsider.com/joseph-stiglitz-says-neoliberalism-is-dead-2016-8

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Countering the Rise of the Rhetoric of Fascism

Nietzsche rightly foresaw that people need to identify some source of meaning and value in their lives, and if they could not find it, they would turn to aggressive nationalism and other such salves as xenophobia. Mussolini’s fascism tends to promote and exploit the grievances of ‘the common man’ portraying society as the theatre of ceaseless conflict – a class war – between oppressor and oppressed, victimizer and victim. Consequently, victim politics is central to fascism. Pre-occupied with community decline, more and more whites now choose to unite around their racial identity – human rights are now at risk of unravelling under unprecedented pressure, while the rhetoric of fascism is being normalized. Our intuitions about values are formed by history, so we can only understand them by historical investigation. Fascism is an ideology, not a natural law of science rather a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.

The fin-de-siècle mindset saw civilization as being in a crisis that required a massive and total solution. ideology was based on a revolt against materialism, rationalism, positivism, bourgeois society, and democracy. Social Darwinism, which gained widespread acceptance, made no distinction between physical and social life, and viewed the human condition as being an unceasing struggle to achieve the survival of the fittest. Social Darwinism challenged positivism’s claim of deliberate and rational choice as the determining behavior of humans, focusing on heredity, race, and environment. Its emphasis on biogroup identity and the role of organic relations within societies fostered legitimacy and appeal for nationalism. New theories of social and political psychology also rejected the notion of human behavior being governed by rational choice, and instead claimed that emotion was more influential in political issues than reason. This thinking supports survival of the fittest and preservation of tradition as best for society.

Robert Paxton says that fascism is “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.”1 The original fascist ideology was developed in Italy – rooted in Italian nationalism and a desire to restore and expand Italian territories deemed necessary for a nation to assert its superiority and strength and avoid succumbing to decay. The rise of fascism unleashed an unprecedented attack on minority populations and communities. They promoted a national syndicalism movement that would be able to solve Italy’s problems, led by elitist aristocrats and anti-democratic believers who shared a revolutionary commitment to direct action through a commitment to fight.

Mussolini consolidated control over the Fascist movement in 1919. He declared opposition to socialism not because it is socialism, but because it has opposed nationalism. During the 1920 strike Mussolini aligned with industrial businesses in attacking workers and peasants in the name of preserving order and internal peace in Italy. The Fascists reoriented their policies – committing to secure law and order – to appeal to both conservatives and syndicalists. In 1921 the Fascists, who believed in the rule of elites, easily aligned themselves with the mainstream conservatives, increasing membership exponentially. Under a coalition government the Acerbo Law guaranteed a plurality of seats in parliament to any party or coalition list in an election that received 25% or more of the vote, which allowed many seats to go to the Fascists. When Mussolini came to power in 1922 he pursued liberal economic policies (in coalition with the Centre Party) that included balancing the budget through deep cuts to the civil service.1

Ernst Nolte argues that fascism arose as a form of resistance to and a reaction against modernity that consists of questioning or rejection of tradition – the prioritization of individualism, freedom, and formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific, and technological progress and human perfectibility. The Fascists accommodated Italian conservatives and the Catholic Church. They promoted family values including policies designed to reduce the number of women in the workforce by limiting women’s role to that of a mother. During this period literature on birth control was banned, and increased penalties for abortion were introduced – in 1926 declaring both crimes against the state. In 1929 the Roman Catholic Church received cash payment along with 109 acres in Rome to create a new papal state – the Vatican. The pope was allowed a small army, police force, post office, and rail station. With this accommodation with the church, Mussolini’s popularity was at its highest.

Charles Murray claims there is a class structure in the US based on IQ. In his book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, Murray promotes a trickle-down value system. Rather than explain social problems in economic terms, he explains social problems in moral terms. The gap that Murray has identified is illustrated by the fact of a marriage rate of 83% in upper middleclass neighbourhood compared to 48% for working class contemporaries. So instead of contributing economically, the wealthy should be contributing morally to healing a culture gap which began with the disintegration of family values by the counter culture of the 1960s. This theme finds support within conservative groups who believe the poor receive too many entitlements and are better off if left to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. The attack on women by conservatives in the US is the claim that working women weaken the family and its adherent social values.

Steve Bannon became executive chairman of Breitbart News and proceeded to turn the website into a platform for the alt-right. The site is known for publishing conspiracy theories as well as intentionally misleading stories. Under Bannon’s leadership the site whipped up frenzy amongst nationalist groups by accusing President Barrack Obama of importing ‘more hating Muslims’ and waging an incessant war against the purveyors of ‘political correctness.’ Breitbart voiced support for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Then Trump tapped Bannon, a veteran propagandist, to lead his presidential campaign, along with Breitbart Media anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican messages. Bannon described the website’s ideology as ‘nationalist’– like the identity movements that currently exist in Europe. However, Bannon has stoked racist themes by accusing the ‘Left’ of a ‘plot to take down America’ by fixating on police shootings of black citizens. Bannon takes credit for fomenting ‘this populist nationalist movement’ long before Trump came on the scene.

Donald Trump was hugely successful in harnessing white identity politics and the politics of white resentment. Trump ran on a promise of restoration, a nostalgia for a time gone by, and the sense that America, particularly white America, is losing and has been losing for years. He promises to bring back the kind of greatness that once existed, but has been taken over by the politically correct that is too focused on diversity to recognise and support the forgotten white man. Donald Trump’s campaign promises included building a wall along the US southern border and making Mexico pay for it, and temporarily ban most Muslims from entering the US, as well as bringing jobs back to America from Mexico and China, and providing more funding for police training. Trump feasts on social divisions and has perfected harnessing the rage of the workers driven by the failure of neoliberal market fundamentalism.

The paranoia of white identity politics fueled Donald Trump’s rise in politics. He adopts policies to ensure the support of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party. President Trump privately signed a bill in April 2017 that allows states to withhold federal money from organizations that provide abortion services, including Planned Parenthood. The bill reverses an Obama-era regulation that prohibited sates from withholding money from facilities that perform abortions arguing that many of these facilities also provide other family planning and medical services. In October 2017 the Trump administration moved to expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception and issued sweeping guidance on religious freedom that critics say could also erode civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The main hook is Trump’s promise to appoint judges who reflect evangelical conservative values such as pro-life, and address threats to American security, customs and values.

President Donald Trump promotes full employment through nationalist economic policies, and to counter the status quo by promising to put an end to evils like corruption and tolerance and restore the nation to mythological greatness. Trump’s legitimacy has nothing to do with the sudden appeal of new right populism, but from their legitimisation by mainstream politics. It is necessary to challenge Republicans at the ballot box beginning at the local level. When Fukuyama declared the ‘end of history’ he was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed the rapidly expanding ideology – neoliberalism – appeared to be providing a balance of liberty and equality post cold war, that could not be bettered. In reality, neoliberalism enabled rampant creeping authoritarianism and the hollowing out of democracy. To counter the rhetoric of fascism it is necessary to redirect or transform popular outrage into a potent challenge of regulations and legislation that support the neoliberal elite.

1 Mussolini and Fascist Italy. Lumen: Boundless World History https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-worldhistory/chapter/the-rise-of-fascism/

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Church of Everlasting Debt and Your Identity

It is easy to start a church. You need a set of by-laws – the governing principles of your organization. Simply adopt clauses from existing ideology you deem appropriate and re-write them to reflect your exact circumstances. The neoliberal ideology of deregulation, privatization, and user pays principle is a good start. Austerity plays a key role – it creates a more subservient population by intentionally increasing joblessness and precariousness for many, demanded on the pretext of bringing public debt under control. In addition austerity weakens the position of the working class relative to the economic elite while pushing the 90% into further personal debt. Private indebtedness unlike government deficit expenditure, bind the majority of individuals to wage labour relations. Workers with mortgages or other debt obligations will be more subservient in relation to their employers and less likely to risk their present positions in negotiations over wages and conditions.

Anselm was made Archbishop of Canterbury following the Norman conquest. He attempted to explain the scripture based on the community around him. His theory of atonement relied heavily on the feudal system of hierarchy, in which serfs worked on an estate for an overlord. The overload – a knight – protected the estate from attack. The knight, in turn, had to honour the king. The serfs owed the knight a debt of honour for their protection and livelihood. Anselm pictured God as the overlord of the world to whom is owed a debt of honour. According to Anselm, the reason human beings get into trouble in the first place is their failure to make good on the original debt of obedience they owe to God. Consequently, debt does not only name an economic relationship, it has theological, political and moral valences as well.

Pastor Joe McKeever observes that there are three kinds of people who come to worship service. The three groups can be characterized as: the browser, the customer, and the shareholder. The browser is someone who is looking for meaning and is checking things out before making a commitment. The customer comes to church for the music, youth activities and other connections to community. They will tell you the church supplies their need while they contribute by their presence and a little money. The third group can be characterized as the shareholders. These folks are the ones who take responsibility for the church’s well-being – its programs, its success – and make the church function. Shareholders – those whose hearts are in this church – interact with browsers and customers regularly so they can invite them to participate in the ongoing work of the church.1

During the 2016 election the Clinton and Trump campaigns reached out to various groups of people in the community. Even though Clinton was at her best when she spoke about American interests in the world, many times throughout the campaign she would slip into the rhetoric of diversity, calling out explicitly to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters – groups who correspond to shareholders of the church (Democratic Party) – the fully committed. Trump, on the other hand, connected with groups in the community who were dissatisfied with the economy and their present lot and invited them to join. He did not make a specific promise, only he would make things better and address their concerns. Trump’s early message was designed to appeal to browsers in the community, a group who could be swayed to come on board, only later did he appeal to stakeholders. The Clinton campaign’s focus on identity politics and failure to promote a message for browsers contributed significantly to their defeat.

Leading up to the 2016 election, many were becoming aware that workers were growing restless with the increasing inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. This included pundits like Steve Bannon who were looking for a platform to spread their ideas. Bannon came as a customer – looking for a place to bring his conspiracy-tinged ideas, and messages for right-wing Americans disillusioned with mainstream politicians. When he left, his economic nationalism message remained. A new church needs people willing to serve as officials of the corporation (church). Trump appointed economic elite as stakeholders with the appropriate belief systems and practices – assembling the most wealthy cabinet in history. These stakeholders include Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin, profiteers of the great foreclosure machine who know what it takes to effectively deliver ongoing massive upward redistribution of wealth. They understand how the neoliberal system works to create working-class indebtedness.

Distressed-asset investor Wilbur Ross helped get Donald Trump out of bankruptcy in the 1990s. Ross subsequently went on to become rich in part with government assistance, taking advantage of bankruptcy laws and tariffs and having others pick up the bill for pensions owed to employees. Using bankruptcy to his advantage he acquired only assets while others shouldered the burdens. In this process he squeezes every last nickel out of the bankrupt companies by firing workers and shipping business lines offshore – a common theme again and again as he manages to profit in the exchange. Ross’s direct investments in shipping companies, while shaping Trump administration trade policy, which inherently requires transportation of goods, has been cited by ethics experts as representing a clear conflict of interest. However, be assured these issues will not distract him from carrying out his stakeholder role in ensuring the well-being of the church of everlasting debt.

Donald Trump picked his campaign finance chairman, Steve Mnuchin, to be his Treasury Secretary. The Wall Street banker spent 17 years at Goldman Sachs, where he was a partner, and is now chief executive of Dune Capital Management, a privately owned hedge fund. He was part of a group who bought failed California-based bank IndyMac, a big mortgage lender and rebranded it to OneWest Bank. Mnuchin, as chairman and CEO of OneWest, developed a reputation during the recession for being quick to foreclose on delinquent homeowners, closing on more than 36,000 households. Quite simply, Mnuchin made himself rich by making others poorer, basically by expanding poverty. “I understand what needs to be done to fix the economy,” Mnuchin said, adding he would help implement “a bold economic agenda.” His past work experience will ensure his present involvement with the tax reforms will continue to enrich the rich, ignore the public deficit while dragging many more of the working class into debt.2

Ross and Mnuchin were profiteers in a crisis that bore nearly all its misery on the backs of working people who suffered from the misfortune of acquiring a high risk loan at the wrong time. It now appears that the foreclosure crisis that these two moguls used as a moneymaking scheme may have handed Trump the election. The Center for American Progress just released a study looking at the role of Midwestern housing instability in the 2016 election. They found that, between 2012 and 2016, negative equity rates – where a homeowner owes more on their house than it’s actually worth – got worse in counties in the Midwest that shifted from blue to red. The Democratic vote was similarly lower in urban counties where housing conditions eroded. In other words, Barack Obama’s handling of the mortgage crisis, by protecting bank balance sheets instead of homeowner balance sheets, may have cost Hillary Clinton the election.3

The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The purpose of the church of everlasting debt is to spread the neoliberal ideology – reaching out to the browsers and the customers to invite participation. In addition this church is involved in exposing the error of safety nets – credit becomes an instrument of capital accumulation, class regulation, and symbolic subjugation. The traditional antagonism between capital and labour has been replaced by the relationship between creditor and debtor. In a economy of indebtedness, the working class can no longer afford to live without expensive credit. Because all knowledge is a matter of perspective, knowledge is interpretation, hence many interpretations are lies. There is a need to accept uncertainty and reject concepts of trickle down effects and meritocracy as fixed, or governed as unassailable ‘truths.’ It’s time to challenge the church of everlasting debt.

The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building, but is defined by people. One reason people raise questions within a church is to address issues of concern. One of today’s issues is the disillusionment with a ‘system’ that creates increasing economic inequality for most. The term postmodernism appears to have currency for many browsers and customers in the neoliberal church. Postmodernism is defined as the reaction to assumed certainty of scientific, or objective, efforts to explain reality. The postmodernism in political science is the observation people resist realistic concepts of power which is repressive – Foucault claims individuals engage in daily practices and routines of self-discipline that subjugate themselves – in order to maintain a claim on their own identity and happiness. Remember the greatest fault of postmodernism is that it lacks an agenda for social change; it is time to pay our debt to the community. Why are you refusing to act, and accepting the status quo?

1 Every Congregation is Made Up of Three Groups (31 Aug 2010) http://joemckeever.com/wp/every-congregation-is-made-up-of-three-groups/

2 Ydstie, John. (30 Noc 2016) Trump Picks Steve Mnuchin To Lead Treasury Department https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/30/503791602/reports-trump-picks-steve-mnuchin-to-lead-treasury-department

3 Dayen, David. (30 Nov 2016) Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin—Profiteers of the Great Foreclosure Machine—Go to Washington https://www.thenation.com/article/wilbur-ross-and-steve-mnuchin-profiteers-of-the-great-foreclosure-machine-go-to-washington/

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Opportunities Lost: Create Your Own Truth

Neoliberalism rose to prominence by representing the subsequent crisis of the 1970s as a crisis of Keynesianism, against which the neoliberal project could be advanced as the return to the natural order of market society. The introduction of trickle-down economics was expected to bring about a new age of economic growth for all, but is now associated with increasing income disparity between the wealthy and the rest of society. The neoliberal model insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification, and now people are technically free but powerless. At the individual-level, neoliberalism insists that rationality, individuality and self-interest guide all actions. Neoliberalism sees the new normal as empowering individuals, and the shifting economy as a valid reason for underemployment with its increased insecurity. However, claims of freedom and equality can be used as tools of manipulation. In this system, the source of profit in exploitation is concealed, economic value is an expression of subjective preferences, rather than a measure of labour time.

A set of shared beliefs within a group is an ideology which influences the way individuals think, act and view the world. Neoliberalism is an ideology – that an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth. Cultural hegemony – the domination or rule achieved through ideological means – functions by achieving the consent of the masses to abide social norms and rules of law by framing the worldview of the economic elite, and the social and economic structures that go with it as just, legitimate, and designed for the benefit of all, even though they may only benefit the wealthy. Postmodernists believe that the West’s claims of freedom and prosperity continue to be nothing more than empty promises and have not met the needs of humanity. They believe that truth is relative, and truth is up to each individual to determine for himself. With a lack of objectivity we are not able to objectively discern factual reality from cultural fiction.

One analyses ideologies in terms of opposition, discontinuities and contradictions rather than in terms of cohesion and continuity. In a 1989 essay Fukuyama declared the ‘end of history’ – he was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed the rapidly expanding ideology – neoliberalism – appeared to be providing a balance of liberty and equality post cold war, that could not be bettered. He claimed that ideological evolution led to universalization of western liberal democracy, and all others should end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society. According to Foucault ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ are created by those in power. What we take to be true is the dominant worldview that we have been provided with: it is received wisdom, not truth. Foucault rejected the idea that society was progressing. The world is not getting better or getting closer to truth, it is just moving through different worldviews.

The ideas of the 19th century: Nietzsche saw nihilism as the most extreme form of pessimism, something that comes from weariness and an alienation from values. When one can recognize the existing value systems as meaningless and empty, and not replace it with anything, they become nihilistic. Mikhail Bakunin’s ideas produced a coherent defense of individual freedom and its basis in a free society. Bakunin believed that political freedom without economic equality is a pretense – a fraud, a lie. He believed that real freedom was possible only when economic and social equality existed. Freedom is a product of connection, not isolation. Bakunin insisted it is society which creates individual freedom through social interaction. Equality for the 19th century anarchists means social equality such as quality of condition, or equal opportunity. An anarchists’ society recognizes the differences in ability and need of individuals but does not allow their differences to be turned into power.

Bakunin recognized that the ruling classes blindly and stubbornly opposed even the slightest social reform and accordingly he saw a federation of free worker’s associations as an important part of the solution to ensure the requirements of daily life. Bakunin stressed anarchists should take an active part in the labour movement, as the strike was “the beginning of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie.” On May 3, 1886 violence broke out at the McCormick Reapers Works in Chicago between police and strikers. The next day about 3000 showed up at Haymarket Square, but as the police moved to disperse the angry crowd a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. Enraged the police fired into the civilian ranks killing seven or eight and wounding about forty. The jury at the trial was composed of business leaders. Lacking credible evidence that the defendants threw the bomb or organized the bomb throwing, prosecutors focused on their writings and speeches (their political and social beliefs). Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government triggered a heightened anti-labour movement. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing, and socialism became un-American.1

The arguments of political economy were based on intuition and assertion rather than on rigorous analysis, but their strength rested on their ideological appeal rather than on their analytical rigour. Modern neoliberal economics is no less dogmatic than its nineteenth century predecessor in resting on a set of simplistic assertions about the character of the market and the behaviour of market actors. However, to argue that the neoliberal model is unrealistic is somewhat to miss the point, since the neoliberal model does not purport so much to describe the world as it is, but the world as it should be. The point for neoliberalism is not to make a model that is more adequate to the real world, but to make the real world more adequate to its model. This is not merely an intellectual fantasy, it is a very real political project to realise, which neoliberalism has conquered the commanding heights of global intellectual, political and economic power, all of which are mobilised to realise the neoliberal project of subjecting the whole world’s population to the judgement and morality of neoliberal capitalism.

However, modern economics is not a scientific discipline but the rigorous elaboration of a very specific social theory, which has become so deeply embedded in western thought as to have established itself as no more than common sense, despite the fact that its fundamental assumptions are patently absurd. Marx and Engels showed that the sole purpose of capitalist production is not the production of things to meet human need, but the constant thirst for profits to maintain the accumulation of capital. The market is, therefore, by no means the beneficent sphere in which social production is subordinated to social need as consumers exercise their freedom of choice, rather it is the arena in which capitalists desperately seek to dispose of their surplus product at a profit. Far from responding to the needs of consumers, capitalism thrives on the constant creation of unsatisfied needs; far from generalising prosperity, capitalism generalises want; far from relieving the burden of labour, capitalism constantly intensifies labour, to the extent that a growing proportion of the population are unable to meet the demands of the neoliberal system while being continually besieged with false promises.2

The idea is simple: the more money the people on top make, the more opportunities for the people below from the dripping down of that prosperity. The hidden agenda here, of course, is the rationalization of inequality. By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. It is no coincidence that the current attacks on the welfare state and public sector are accompanied by attempts to undermine core cultural and institutional freedoms such as rights of trade unionists and media freedom. These activities are undermining the freedoms and opportunities that had been achieved over the years through working-class, progressive struggle against the bitter opposition of the ruling class. The way to enhance individual freedom and bring about progressive change is to concentrate efforts at the local level.

It is not about a political party, rather a critique of the existing neoliberal systems of power, such as the identification of the workers who have been left behind since 2008, and how to challenge the maintenance of the existing power structure. There is no right way to approach politics, since there is no unifying story that is true for life or politics. With destruction of the grand narrative – trickle down economics – there is no longer any unifying identity for individuals or society. Instead the focus is on individuals – the sites where ranges of conflicting moral and political codes intersect, and the social bond is fragmented. It is much easier to be critical than to present a positive vision – many believe solidarity of the left has been fragmented by identity politics. We must not give up our freedom and allow our lives to be governed by an ideology that limits our opportunities.

The economic elite demand a dressed-up sophisticated economic theory be applied to society regardless of the outcome which has nothing to do with economics but everything to do with power. We now live in a world where those who can afford to spend the most money to have their version of it advertised widely define truth. If there is no single truth that is acknowledged by all the people, then one is able to question the action of the government. This is the greatest strength of the postmodern political landscape, as people are able to create their own form of truth and choose actions and politics to support it.3 We must promote changes that strategically accomplishes what needs to be accomplished – dismantle the neoliberal socio-economic system. It is necessary to focus on factors that affect the social determinants of health, associated with the healthcare reform and budget legislation that supports progressive taxation at the local level – then remember to vote. This change requires a great deal of effort from all citizens.

1 Part 2 of 2. The Rise of the new Anarchists (10 Oct 2014) https://questioningandskepticism.com/part-2-of-2-the-rise-of-the-new-anarchists/

2 Clarke, Simon. (16 May 2013) The Neoliberal Theory of Society: The Ideological Foundations of Neo-Liberalism http://www.heathwoodpress.com/the-neoliberal-theory-of-society-the-ideological-foundations-of-neo-liberalism/

3 Postmodernity http://www.philosopherkings.co.uk/postmodernity.html

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Response to the Nationalist Neoliberal Hegemony

Hegel believed in a freedom of action that included struggle through rational deliberation – when we cease to strive to realize a potential then we live by habit, by rote. The light of progress spreads and can be generated by individuals who have the freedom and opportunities to grow and reach their full potential Hegel affirmed. Today’s dialectic would be the tension between the present minimal government of economic austerity and a system that decreases the economic gap and creates more choices and opportunities for individuals to reach their full potential. The neoliberal ideological project or hegemony is geared to making itself invisible – is almost never mentioned in the mainstream political world. Today, the neoliberal state is the extension of the economic elite – propagated by elected officials, government bureaucrats, military officials, technocrats who can speak no other language than that of the privileged status of capital, and who hold the belief they are serving the greater good.

Ideological hegemony theorizes the way in which relationships of domination and exploitation are embedded in the dominant ideas of society. According to Gramsci, hegemony locks up a society even more tightly because of the way ideas are transmitted by language. The words we use to speak and write have been constructed by social interactions through history and shaped by the dominant ideology of the times. Thus they are loaded with cultural meanings that condition us to think in particular ways, and to not be able to think very well in other ways. A key hegemonic claim is that the market provides a natural mechanism for rational economic allocation, however we have witnessed a permanent global crisis in our political systems. There is an open crisis in neoliberal hegemony – should we not interpret the results of Brexit vote in Britain and the US federal election in 2016 as confirmations of this diagnosis?

The West enjoyed a period of economic equality from the end of the Second World War to 1970 when the rate of economic gains was equivalent between the wealthy and workers. Subsequently, forty-five years of tax cuts for the rich have been linked to income inequality, a shrinking middle class and the loss of freedom to make choices they desire (social mobility). What is the most powerful political force in the world one could tap into for change? Many might nominate the resurgence of religion or the advance of democracy or human rights. Or maybe it’s digital technology, as symbolized by the Internet and all that comes with it. None of the above – it’s nationalism. As Orwell said, a nationalist can justify anything in the cause of “protecting” his construct of the state. During the 2016 election Donald Trump exploited racist myths and stereotypes to instil fear in working-class Americans who have genuine economic problems.

Professor Rappard observes: if we wish to define economic nationalism by its underlying purpose, we should say that it was a doctrine destined to serve the nation by making it not richer, but freer, by promoting not its material welfare, but its independence of foreign influences. However, the economic nationalism promoted by Bannon and Trump is about returning well-paying jobs to the US that the neoliberal economic model otherwise directed overseas. Orwell further explained the dangers of nationalism. The way a nationalist “thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige.” The way a nationalist’s “thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs, and humiliations.” Nationalism, Orwell explained, “is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also – since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself – unshakeably certain of being in the right …”1

The long-term sustainability of global market capitalism is a primary concern of many economists and business leaders. The present disruptive force of capitalist competition undermines the working class, weakening the hold of neoliberals as it fails to deliver. Steve Bannon clearly recognized the negative consequences of the present market system and incorporated a systematic approach to nationalism – immigration control, border wall – while pursuing a pro-capitalist agenda. Even with the departure of Bannon from the Trump White House, it does not mean the end of economic nationalism as it is serves to distract working-class Americans from very real questions about the domestic distribution of economic resources by casting dispersions on foreigners. Basically, neoliberalism with its combination of market anarchy and work place despotism – where discipline and conformity in the office or factory are counterbalanced by a potpourri of gratifying and pleasurable consumer choices – further destabilizes the social order by promising and then dashing any hopes of individuals reaching their potential.

The economic elite recognize that nationalism has a function – fill the gap that consumerism can never fill, providing psychic compensation for the atomization of modern life, social cohesion beyond the fragmentation of the market place, and encouraging allegiance to one’s nationalist leader on the world stage. As neoliberal capitalism fragments social experience, nationalism becomes ever more important in gluing the working class to the political elite. In the end, it only serves to reinforce the existing social order and the interests to the economic elite. This failure of neoliberal policies has created opportunities for others. The alt-right has taken advantage of the widespread anger over growing economic problems (of neoliberalism) and directed that rage at migrants, outsiders and multiculturalism. However, IMF representatives have now noted that the economic deliverables that the neoliberal policies are designed to foster are difficult to discover, while the inequality caused by austerity is palpable.

The 2008 economic crisis was exploited by ruling classes to strengthen disciplinary mechanisms through increased austerity. It is time to challenge the lie of austerity. Neoliberal policies around austerity increase inequality, which in turn, hurt long-term growth and stability in the economy. As more and more citizens become aware of the economic damage of inequality, policy makers will become more open to redistribution. While the structure and agency of neoliberalism furnished the conditions for global capitalist expansion they did not provide a function to address inequality. There is sparse evidence for the role of neoliberal capitalism in supporting and extending personal liberty. Indeed, the workings of capitalism are usually subtle, and its effects on the range of human choice have generally been unintended by those bringing them about. That is, they often occur as a by-product of actions motivated by quite other ends-in-view (i.e. making a profit).

Remember, a key hegemonic claim is that the market provides a natural mechanism for rational economic allocation. Thus, attempts to regulate capital via political decisions produce suboptimal outcomes. This thinking is used to undermine the mechanics of popular engagement in determining policy. The actual individuals – the economic elite – who control the decision-making undermine other associations, like unions, under the rhetoric of personal freedom. The economic elite remove decision-making out of hands of the working class and rely on the politicians they own and the media they control to provide explanations of reductions in social programs like Obamacare and Medicaid in order to cover the tax cuts for the wealthy. The proposed GOP tax cuts for all is window-dressing to make the offer ‘look’ attractive, while in reality smoke and mirrors to obscure the fact that it is a giveaway to giant corporations, and does not provide long-term relief for the working class.

Since the early 1980s, the adoption of neoliberalism has seen the systematic transfer of power from the public to private sectors. Economies are ultimately the collective activities of groups of people, and many of the people can get hurt – inequality goes upward as the benefits accrue to the wealthy. And the increased inequality undercuts real growth because a relatively small group of people who get the majority share of benefits cannot spend and consume enough to drive overall growth, and the mechanism creates a positive feedback loop, which means things get driven further and further in an ‘adverse’ direction. In 2007, real wages of American workers were actually lower than they were in 1979 when the neoliberal plan began.2 For decades, it now appears that public policies have been driven by people who didn’t really know what they were doing (because if they had known, things would have turned out the way they predicted) and who couldn’t see the raft of unexpected consequences of their suggestions.

At the heart of neoliberal economic policies is the insulation of both capital and state from democratic control. The Hegelian dialectic consists of a thesis in which one group wants more control over the system in order to reduce economic inequality. This activity would cause an antithesis or reaction from the economic elite who receive significant benefits from the existing system. The final stage would be the synthesis in which the group seeks progress – a process that results in the synthesis or solution to the problem – that is very close to what that most individuals wanted to begin with. The response to the nationalist neoliberal hegemony: return democratic control or decision-making to the working class. This requires steps to reverse the power now in the hands of the oligarchs: address gerrymandering, counter vote suppression gimmicks, reverse 2010 Supreme Court decision in favour of Citizens United removing the restriction on how much money corporations can spend on US federal elections.3

1 Astore, William. (6 August 2017) Beware The Blinding Power Of Nationalism https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/beware-the-blinding-power-of-nationalism_us_5987352fe4b00833d1de28e2

Desilver, Drew. (9 October 2014) For most workers, real wages have barely budged for decades. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/10/09/for-most-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

3  The Role of Nationalism in Supporting Economic Neoliberalism (11 August 2017) http://questioningandskepticism.com/role-nationalism-supporting-economic-neoliberalism/

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Collective Bargaining and the Service Industry

Neoliberal fiscal austerity policies decrease public expenditure through cuts to central and local government budgets, welfare services and benefits, and privatization of public resources resulting in job losses. While unemployment is not exclusive to the homeless, it is a common issue associated with many other social determinants of health, such as food insecurity, poor social capital, and unstable housing. Foucault observes: under neoliberalism government must not correct the destructive effects of the market on society. Under neoliberal policies rather than social policies to ensure the welfare of citizens, social policy is defined as economic growth and privatization. The economic game is believed to be the regulator in the change from an industrial-based economy to a service-based economy, significantly influenced by the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs. In turn, this creates intermediate requirements (inputs now purchased from firms specialized in services) that result in creation of a significant amount of the service-based economy.

Unemployment provides a pool of potential workers unable to be unwilling to do the most boring, dead end, menial, underpaid, temporary, insecure, stressful jobs. Economists have worked the numbers in an effort to remind the unemployed their primary function is to control inflation, reduce wage costs, as well as discipline those in the workplace. Many economists embrace (NAIRU) Nonaccelerating Rate of Unemployment – which refers to the level of unemployment (4-6%) required to prevent inflation. However, those who developed the concept, observe NAIRU does not suggest that an unemployment rate is socially optimal, unchanging, or impervious to policy. Stable employment can enable individuals to live healthier lives by residing in safer neighborhoods, affording better health care, providing education or child care for their children, and buying nutritious food. Thus, addressing unemployment can be an essential step to treating other significant social determinants of health.

Often, insecure employment consists of intense work with non-standard working hours. Intense working conditions are associated with higher rates of stress, bodily pains, and a high risk of injury. Excessive hours of work increase chances of physiological and psychological problems such as sleep deprivation, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Consequently, job insecurity has negative effects on personal relationships, parenting effectiveness, and children’s behavior. Unemployment is related to poor health through various pathways. First, unemployment often leads to material deprivation and poverty by reducing income and removing benefits that were previously provided by one’s employer. Second, losing a job is a stressful event that lowers one’s self-esteem, disrupts daily routines, and increases anxiety. Third, unemployment increases the likelihood of turning to unhealthy coping behaviours such as tobacco use and problem drinking.1 Life expectancy is one of the most widely used indicators of health status and a key measure of human well-being.

New research by an ex-government adviser, Sir Michael Marmot, suggests that the rise in life expectancy – a constant trend for a hundred years – has stalled since 2010. Life expectancy is declining. That really would be the sign of a social calamity in a country as advanced as [Britain]. But we are still talking about the robbing of life. People’s lives have been truncated, because they are not living as long as they should have done if the rate of increase had continued. And terrifyingly, this rate of increase is “pretty close to having ground to a halt”, says Marmot. He is “deeply concerned” and “expected it to just keep getting better”. Life expectancy at birth had been going up so fast that women were gaining an extra year of life every five years and men an additional 12 months every three-and-a-half years. Since then life expectancy has continued to creep upwards, but at a slower rate, according to Marmot’s latest analysis.2

The labor movement in the United States grew out of the need to protect the common interest of workers. For those in the industrial sector, organized labor unions fought for better wages, reasonable hours and safer working conditions. The labor movement led efforts to stop child labor, give health benefits and provide aid to workers who were injured or retired. The discontent of industrial workers, combined with New Deal collective bargaining legislation, created the conditions for organizing the great mass production industries. In 1935 John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers and his followers formed the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO), which crucially aided the emerging unions in auto, rubber, steel, and other basic industries. In 1938 the CIO was formally established as the Congress of Industrial Organizations. By the end of World War II, more than 12 million workers belonged to unions, and collective bargaining had taken hold throughout the industrial economy.

The social reformers of the 20th century put in place an important (albeit incomplete) safety net that made economic depressions a thing of the past. That included guaranteed and directly provided housing, education, health insurance (for the elderly and children), retirement income, and many other programs and policies. Instead of strengthening the safety-net, the current philosophy is on a radical deconstruction of the administrative state. Such discussion indicates intent to devolve these functions not simply to states, but to corporations (i.e., the privatization movement of public education, healthcare, and social security). If the Trump/Bannon vision is to convert the Welfare State into a Corporate Welfare State, and if it comes to fruition, it will represent an entirely new world order, one that ushers in a new Dickensian world of modern robber barons, precarious labor, and social and economic insecurity and injustice.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting in 1948 a monthly unemployment rate. During Bill Clinton’s first term the bureau discontinued including discouraged workers who had stopped looking for a job in the count. That unemployment has fallen to pre-recession levels (in the context of an anemic recovery) is largely due to the mass exodus of workers from the labor market, and the increase in the number of people who are discouraged, marginally attached, or trapped in long term unemployment. The transformation of developed nations into service-based economies has led to the precipitous decline in the employment content in manufacturing. In the US, only 8% of total employment was in manufacturing in 2014. Where will they bring the jobs back from? The share of employment in manufacturing in most developed countries has collapsed anywhere between 40% (i.e., Japan) to 70% (i.e., US and U.K.) since the 70s, when manufacturing employment was around its peak.

A discontented electorate voted for Donald Trump in 2016, influenced by three major policies: national security, economic nationalism, and the deconstruction of the administrative state. This included devolving essential federal functions to the states, provide increasingly smaller or strictly capped grants-in-aid, and eventually shrink, privatize, or eliminate programs altogether. Given Republicans’ hostility to all public assurance programs, the likely reform will include some mix of private sector subsidies, rebates, and vouchers, which are fundamentally at odds with the goal of guaranteeing access to all. If the administration hopes to deliver the jobs it had promised over a decade by focusing on manufacturing, it will fail. Services have become much more important from a supply point of view – a point that does not seem to be sufficiently appreciated in policy discussions. New policies must recognise future growth and export competitiveness will depend more and more on the service-based sector.3

Economic nationalism has no chance in bringing back the manufacturing jobs of the 1970s, rather it has high probability of creating a negative impact established trade between the US and Canada and Mexico. The American Legislative Exchange Council supported by the Koch brothers develops model bills supporting the rubric ‘right to work’ touted as giving workers freedom not to join unions. While it is based on individual rights of non-union members to enjoy benefits of union representation, its primary purpose is to weaken unions. The number of part-time jobs has increased significantly since 2007 while the number of full-time jobs dropped – corporations decided not to add full-time jobs that come with costly benefits. Now many workers find themselves stressed working 60-70 hours a week as the only way to survive. The government must duplicate the legislation of the 1930s that helped protect the common interest of the industrial workers to protect the interests of workers in today’s service industry.

The task at hand is to design a comprehensive policy strategy to remedy the precarious nature of service sector work, much like was done with manufacturing early in the 20th century. Before manufacturing was able to offer a safe working environment and decent family wages, employment in that sector was insecure and hazardous. Trump’s bait and switch job creation in the midst of safety net sabotage has increased demand on the social services workforce, especially for NGOs and volunteers. The vast majority of jobs in the US today are directed to the reproduction of labor, i.e., to the care, education, health, feeding, entertaining, etc. of people. Today, 80% of all jobs in the US are in the service sector, compared to only 12% in goods-producing industries. It is these service sector jobs that continue to be poorly paid and unstable. It is necessary to develop collective bargaining legislation to support the transition from an industrial-based economy to a service-based economy.4

1 David Fryer and Rose Stambe. (April 2014) Neoliberal austerity and unemployment Vol 27 pp 244-249. https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-27/edition-4/neoliberal-austerity-and-unemployment

2 Jones Owen. (18 July 2017) Now we find out the real cost of austerity – our lives cut short. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/18/austerity-cuts-life-expectancy

3 Berlingieri, Giuseppe. (25 Sept 2014) Outsourcing and the shift from manufacturing to services http://voxeu.org/article/outsourcing-and-shift-manufacturing-services

4 Pavlina R. Tcherneva. (22 March 2017) Trump’s bait and switch: job creation in the midst of welfare state sabotage, issue no. 78, pp. 148-158 http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue78/Tcherneva78.pdf

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Using a Digital Commons to Inform the Administrative State

Trickle down economics hurts the working class. Since 2008 it’s been kept alive by an austerity delusion – combined inordinate fear with buoyant optimism – of the rich, the bankers, the mainstream economists and the media rather than reality. The reality is the neoliberal model can only deliver: austerity, stagnation, and increased economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. When it grows it creates asset bubbles and market collapses, and then with every boom and bust cycle destroys more of the post-war safety nets. The failures of neoliberalism created an angry electorate who voted for change in the 2016 US election. This opens a debate on two alternatives to change: one group proposes the deconstruction of the administrative state; while on the other hand, another group recommends a model of reality – the economy, the energy supply, the ecosystem, public health – be generated from data points of the digital commons.

Steve Bannon is aware that neoliberalism, far from being the midwife of a third industrial revolution, has stifled it. Bannon framed much of Trump’s agenda with the phrase, “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president says have stymied economic growth and infringed upon U.S. sovereignty. Bannon says that the post-World War II political and economic consensus is failing and should be replaced with a system that empowers ordinary people over coastal elites and international institutions. Economic nationalism also supports this agenda. Steve Bannon explains: President Trump’s cabinet picks are aimed at “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning weakening regulatory agencies and other bureaucratic entities. However, Bannon’s recommendations for change rely for the most part on the tools of neoliberalism: reduction of government and regulations combined with austerity.

Administrative agencies – the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, or the Environmental Protection Agency – were empowered by Congress to formulate federal rules and regulations that carry the force of law. While overseen by Congress along with the president and presidential appointees, today’s administrative agencies effectively possess the power to create and enforce (and sometimes even adjudicate) law – despite being part of the executive (rather than the legislature or judiciary). Koch Industries lobbying spent over $8 million in 2011, much of it on environmental issues. Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, op-ed a piece in the Wall Street Journal identified the EPA’s plans to regulate carbon emissions as “an unconstitutional power grab that will kill millions of jobs unless Congress steps in.” At the end of 2011 Phillips summed up politicians’ skepticism of climate change, “Most of these candidates have figured out that science has become political.”1

Another constitutional matter that features prominently in recent debates about administrative law concerns judicial deference. Federal courts have an established policy of deferring to administrative agencies when interpreting ambiguous statutes. The rationale here is that agencies, staffed as they are with subject matter experts, are more knowledgeable about the relevant issues than the courts. But some conservative critics worry that this trend has simply empowered administrative agencies to take on the judiciary’s constitutional role as well – that of interpreting the law. The federal administrative state hummed along for years, relatively unperturbed until President Donald Trump implemented a freeze on new costs in January 2017. Trump, meanwhile, has made rolling back Obama-era regulations a centerpiece of his administration.

Putting anti-regulation chairs at the top of regulatory bodies is nothing new for conservative administrations – George W. Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, for instance, pushed back against staff recommendations and slackened enforcement. As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and lightening the regulatory load on businesses is a pillar of modern Republican doctrine. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, for example, was reportedly told by the president that he could hire staff “as long as they’re our people.” Here’s what can happen when you implement this: elimination of a rule that helped prevent oil, gas and coal companies from cheating American taxpayers on royalty payments; a canceled moratorium on a failed coal leasing program that is also cheating taxpayers; a canceled study into the health risks of people living near mountaintop-removal coal mines after rescinding a rule that would have protected their health. If not for the intervention of a US District Court, there would have been a suspension of a methane rule that will save hundreds of millions of dollars, provide energy for American homes and restrict harmful methane emissions.2

In March 2017 there were five-hundred thirty-one key jobs in the Trump administration waiting for Senate approval, according to the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service. But just because there isn’t a nominee doesn’t mean that the government offices are ghost towns. Over 400 staffers made the jump from the Trump transition to the Trump administration on January 20th – their roles in the government are eyes and ears of the administration while operating in the shadows. The beachhead team members start out as temporary employees serving for short stints, but many are expected to move into permanent jobs. The administration has been clear about its overarching aim, which it seems determined to carry out: transforming, and in some cases perhaps even deliberately hamstringing, the work of the federal government. Lobbyists representing the economic elite now have considerable power in the new Trump administration.3

Austerity is backed by the belief that too much state spending preceded it. The 2008 financial crisis, caused by a financial sector lending too much, led to bank bailouts that increased the public-sector debt. This led to an outcry about public debt, rather than financial sector mismanagement. Because of all this spending, they claimed it is now necessary to introduce more austerity. The Trump administration has proposed massive cuts to discretionary federal spending. This is what chief strategist Steve Bannon meant when he recently called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The budget would cut programs that provide school lunches for poor kids, that help low-income families heat their homes, that support STEM education. It would slash the funding that provides grants for air pollution control and dozens of other services primarily dedicated to poor people, a clean environment, science and the arts. Bernie Sanders claims the GOP tax proposals to be a massive transfer of wealth from working families, the elderly, children, the sick and poor to the top 1%.

At the same time, the size of the federal workforce is down, from about 2.2 million when Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 to about 2 million when Barack Obama won re-election in 2012. Yet the population of the US during this period increased from 236 million in 1984 to around 314 million in 2012. And the size of the federal budget increased from $1.5 trillion to nearly $3.5 trillion. So that means fewer bureaucrats accounting for more money, and serving more people. No wonder people are frustrated with government. Donald F. Kettl observes, “The big challenge that ultimately faces Bannon’s campaign to deconstruct the administrative state… the administration can’t produce less government with fewer bureaucrats – just worse government, one that disappoints citizens even more and wastes far more tax dollars.” Cutting the federal workforce without addressing the statutory obligations and mandates just puts more demand on the remaining employees. This drives a potential downward spiral.4

One irony of Trump’s proposed budget cuts is that they will likely make members of Congress more aware of how much people actually depend on government. By threatening to cut so many programs that working-class Americans rely on, Trump may make many people appreciate all the things government does for them. Members of Congress are going to be hearing a lot more about the programs on the chopping block. Algorithms are now very sophisticated and capable of processing many trends in the community. Presently this is only being used by the politicians and the economic elite to manipulate the system. A digital commons is a discreet online resource that is collaboratively developed and managed by a community. With the use of algorithms and the digital commons, a new route beyond capitalism has emerged. In order to achieve this goal it is necessary to break down the walls of the monopoly that corporations have on the data of individuals.

We need to remove the barriers to abundant information and model current economic reality as ambitiously as climate science models the weather. A climate model is actually a collection of models – typically an atmosphere model, an ocean model, a land model, and a sea ice model. Each component represents a staggering amount of complex, specialized processes. The new economic model of reality involves reconfiguring the administrative state. There would need to be regulation to replace precarious work that is flexible and humane. Universal health care would be part of this new administrative state. Eventually a living wage – a wage that is high enough to maintain a family’s basic needs of living: food, clothes, rental housing, childcare, transportation, and small savings to cover illness and emergencies. In this manner we move forward to create the co-operative, humane sharing society within the niches of capitalism that would replace the broken neoliberal system. The post-neoliberal mode of production would be replaced by a solution that incorporates data from a digital commons to inform the administrative state.5

1 Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. 2016 Doubleday. pp 276-278

2 Clement, Joel. (13 Oct 2017) Secretary Zinke, it’s time to call it quits http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/12/opinions/zinke-resign-opinion-clement/index.html

3 Ryssak, Kai. (12 April 2017) Trump’s ‘beachhead team’ is the government’s eyes and ears. https://www.marketplace.org/2017/04/12/business/so-many-job-vacancies-whos-running-government

4 Drutman, Lee. (17 March 2017) Deconstructing the Administrative State      http://billmoyers.com/story/deconstructing-administrative-state/

5 Mason, Paul. (10 Sept 2015) Neoliberalism is broken… https://medium.com/mosquito-ridge/keynote-speech-solikon-berlin-f0e2caeff8d8

Posted in economic inequality | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

There Is No Alternative to Austerity: Propping Up the Neoliberal State

Neoliberalism requires a market society achieved through a transformation in social society. Initially this meant welfare states must be slammed down by austerity policies in order to turn over to the market potentially lucrative sectors of the social economy – such as health care, education, social security. Public resources must become privatized, the public good must now be produced by private initiative. Neoliberal economic policy can only function with a state that encourages its growth by actively shaping society in its own image, and austerity is the tool to push for that transformation. Neoliberal political systems have been created through financial coercion and are held hostage by financial interests due to the economic ‘necessities’ created by bankruptcies and budget deficits. The drive towards a market society and the social engineering required to maintain that society are further expressions of the de facto authoritarianism of neoliberalism and the neoliberal state.

Austerity is traditionally defined as economic policies surrounding deficit cutting. Pablo Iglesias argues that austerity is when people are forced out of their homes, when social services do not work, when public schools lack resources, when countries do not have sovereignty and become colonies of financial powers. Neoliberalism needs to ensure its own survival by bending civil society, political institutions, and democracy to its will. By giving the market the freedom to determine when wages will be lowered, when jobs will be shed, and when communities will be destroyed, while simultaneously dismantling social welfare programs to increase the market’s authority, a social crisis is produced that requires an expanded police and penal system. To counter opposition, the neoliberal state is maintained through the creation of new political constituencies. Austerity, understood as a social-historical force, is the tool of the neoliberal state to subvert democracy and promote authoritarianism.

Neoliberal ideals suffer from inevitable contradictions that require a state structure to regulate them. The role of law is to ensure the individual’s superiority over the collective in the form of private ownership rights and intellectual property rights (i.e. patents and copyrights). A judicial system is necessary to designate and regulate interaction between private actors and the market. If people were free to make decisions about their lives democratically, surely the first thing they would do is interfere with the property rights of the elite, posing an existential threat to the neoliberal experiment. Whether these popular aspirations take the form of drives towards unionization, progressive taxation, or pushing for social policies that require the redistribution of resources, the minimal state cannot be so minimal that it is unable to respond to and crush the democratic demands of citizens. The neoliberal state exists in theory to guarantee the rights of the individual over the demands of the majority. A system must be put in place that protects against the ‘wrong’ decisions of a public that is supposed to buy, sell, act, and choose freely.1

Austerity is backed by the belief that too much state spending preceded it. Basically, the practise of austerity is being practised so that the neoliberal system can be maintained – supported by the belief that the economy should remain free from intervention of any kind, and that austerity is a natural policy initiative during periods of crisis. In response to the 2008 economic crisis, there was a call for a new Bretton Woods with the idea of an international reserve currency rather than the dollar. Marx noted that during a time of financial crisis, it is the working classes which are financially disciplined. The recent GOP budget is a blueprint for permanent austerity that builds in escalating cuts to social benefits, squeezing resources the federal government needs to help most citizens, while pushing costs for healthcare and other social needs onto already stretched state and local governments.

Some have called neoliberalism no more than “privatized Keynesianism”. Basically, states used specific strategies to stimulate market growth, rather than allow the market to dictate entirely the results of production and social relations. This encouraged banks and credit lenders to extend credit in order to maximize profits and extend a growth bubble (i.e. internet bubble, housing bubble). The state encouraged institutional and individual debt, which, over time became normalized and ingrained into everyday life. What began in 2008 as a crisis known as the ‘credit crunch’ when the finger of irresponsibility was pointed at the banks facilitating large mortgages, has now been transformed into a ‘financial crisis’ where the blame seems to lie directly with the state. Austerity is deemed both a necessity and a way of redirecting the cause of the crisis so that reckless fiscal spending is seen as the root cause. In this manner, they are able to defuse the need for economic reform to a belief that the crisis was a regrettable yet ultimately a cyclical process of capitalism.2

In 2009 the Tea Party emerged as a response to state intervention in the market – organized protests against the financial bailout that soon expanded to protesting excessive federal regulation of small business and taxation. Tea Party supporters believe the myth that States’ rights offset federal encroachments, while in reality the federal government has been the progressive force in US society, passing voting rights and civil rights acts and other laws regulating the worst excesses of the business community. The mixed reactionary populism of the group quickly took on a neoliberal discourse, opposing new welfare reforms being proposed by the Obama administration, later adding health reform. While promoted as a grass roots movement, many activities of the Tea Party are organized by corporate lobby groups like Freedom Work and Americans for Prosperity. The Tea Party is a new political constituency that supports neoliberalism, funded by corporate billionaires like the Koch brothers.

Puerto Rico has been in a decade long economic tailspin. In 2006, Puerto Rico lost its special tax advantage that encouraged US businesses to locate there. The 2007 financial crisis made investors more wary of investments, especially with increasing Puerto Rico debt. The 2009 recession saw a slow recovery of the tourist season. US tax laws created a tax subsidy for off-shore investments which attracted the attention of New York banks and hedge funds. The Government Development Bank didn’t manage to spend the money they borrowed to accomplish much that was useful in the long-term. In 2010 the Tea Party blocked any attempt by the Obama administration to help with debt restructuring. In addition, the New York bankers and hedge fund lenders did not want to take a hair cut, rather, they wanted an intensive program of austerity and use the money saved to pay the debt owed.3

Only the states of New York and California have more debt that Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico’s population is shrinking. One of the recommendations to save money coming from the lenders is to cut spending on education, even after Puerto Rico closed 100 schools in 2015. (Note the US national per student spending average is $10,667, and then Puerto Rico’s is only $8,400). The Puerto Rican economy has been in a recession, defined as at least two consecutive periods of declining growth, since 2006. Poverty is an issue – 43.5% of its residents live below the poverty line, more than double that of Louisiana and Mississippi. Then hurricane Maria devastated the island. President Trump sent shivers through the municipal bond market by suggesting that Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt should be wiped away, but administration officials quickly walked back the remarks, saying they weren’t meant to be taken literally.

Neoliberal austerity policies are the biggest bait and switch in history. The 2008 financial crisis, caused by a financial sector lending too much, led to bank bailouts that increased the public-sector debt. This led to an outcry about public debt, rather than financial sector mismanagement. Because of all this spending, they claimed it is now necessary to introduce more austerity. The basic business model was fundamentally flawed and required a huge implicit state subsidy. On the other hand, they found it much easier to imagine that past minor indiscretions by government were the cause of a full-blown debt crisis. It served a two-fold purpose: (1) distraction from the deficiencies of neoliberalism clearly illustrated from the financial crisis, (2) accelerate or enable a more rapid accomplishment of shrinking the state. It is no coincidence that austerity typically involves cuts in spending rather than higher taxes – it supports neoliberal ideology.

Democracy is in decline because economic inequality is on the rise. The bedrock of democracy is citizens’ political equality despite unequal wealth, and high inequality inevitably erodes the barrier between wealth and political influence. Austerity is the end of democracy because without democratic control of the economy there is no democracy. People buy the argument that things are not working any more. They experience directly the growing inequity, the insecurity, the unfairness. Now people want to hear, boldly and clearly, an authentic message about change that will make a difference. We desire an economic democracy – to turn away from austerity measures and instead choose a path of inclusive growth that delivers better outcomes for people, communities, and the environment. When politicians claim that there is no alternative to austerity, they are choosing to prop up neoliberalism, with its ever-rising inequality and insecurity, rather than choosing a path to economic democracy.4

1 Azar, Riad. (2015) Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism Vol: XV-3 http://newpol.org/content/neoliberalism-austerity-and-authoritarianism

2 Worth. Owen. (2013) Resistance in the Age of Austerity: Nationalism. The Failure of the Left and the Return of God. ISBN 978 1 78032 338 1

3 Isquith, Elias. (29 Jul 2015) The 1 per cent declares war on Puerto Rico: The austerity push that unmasks neoliberalism. https://www.salon.com/2015/07/29/the_1_percent_declares_war_on_puerto_rico_the_austerity_push_that_unmasks_neoliberalism/

4 Guinan, Joe. (8 Feb 2013) Social democracy must radicalise to survive. https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/joe-guinan/social-democracy-must-radicalise-to-survive

Posted in economic inequality, Global Economy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nightmare on Main Street: the Neocon and Neoliberal Failures

A nightmare, or bad dream, is an unpleasant experience that can cause a strong emotional response from the mind, typically fear but also despair, distress, even extreme anxiety. The dream may contain situations of discomfort, psychological or physical terror or panic. Failures of economic and foreign policies have trickled down creating threats to the economy and the well-being of the working class, causing anxiety on Main Street. This has been aggravated by bait and switch – the high value item is removed, then the workers enter a state of anxiety in which they seek to re-enter the comfortable closed state. Thus they make decisions on their most current needs accepting almost any solution – to get back to that comfortable state – rather than through a rational process. These unpleasant thoughts are a nightmare for many. It’s important to determine what’s causing your adult nightmares – the issues plaguing you during the day. Then you can make changes to address or reduce their occurrence.

After a rash of spending during the Vietnam War, there was not enough gold to cover the amount of dollars in circulation. In response the Nixon administration pulled the US out of the Bretton Woods Accord – abandoning the Gold Standard. In addition, countries led by the US, expanded their money supplies concerned that currency values would fluctuate unpredictably for a time. This in turn, led to the depreciation of the dollar and other currencies, followed directly by massive inflation and recession. In response neoliberal policies of minimal government and regulation were introduced. During the same decade, neocons, a pseudo-intellectual group, came together over concern over the non-interventionist US foreign policy, in particular, as the Democratic Party grew more dovish after the Vietnam War. They came across to the Republican Party and embraced trickle-down economics while promoting the concept of black and white morality be applied to any conflict – based on the outcome of World War II and the Cold War – would result in the spread of democracy everywhere.

Steve Bannon takes credit for fomenting the ‘populist nationalist movement’ long before Trump came on the scene. Bannon borrowed the concept of nationalism from the alt-right in Europe. Four years prior to Trump’s election, Bannon as executive chairman of Breitbart, established the website as the voice for the alt-right, allowing them to readily peddle in conspiracy theories and memes. ‘Clickbait’, the concept of creating a melodramatic title for an online article so as to manipulate people into clicking the link and reading the content, is used as a tool by sites like Breitbart to spread fake news, especially during the 2016 election. One point of difference from all the other websites competing to be the conservative Huffington Post was the site’s consistent funding of an aggressive, sensationalist brand of original journalism. In turn, the Breitbart version of the story is then amplified by other conservative media, and then mainstream outlets.

While Candidate Trump promised to fix a rigged economic and political system, President Trump put in play a great bait and switch. The bait was Trump’s critique of the economic establishment and globalization and the harm they have done to working class. Trump presents himself as remedying globalization’s negative effects. Among working families, globalization is the most visible and economically understood issue, and Trump’s critique of globalization is front and center of his pro-worker masquerade. The switch is rather than reforming the neoliberal economy, Trump substitutes racism, nationalism, and authoritarianism, while simultaneously doubling-down on neoliberal economic policy. Given his lack of any history of government service, Trump has been able get away with this pro-worker masquerade. His new unilateralism in foreign policy is political posturing to keep workers distracted from the real causes of economic inequality.1 However, part of it may reflect the triumph of neocon thinking within the US.

The neocon project was originally concerned with military supremacy and targeted Russia. However, it is about US power in general, which means it potentially implicates every country and every dimension of international policy. Neocons believe that the United States should not be ashamed to use its unrivaled power – forcefully if necessary – to promote its values around the world. Some even speak of the need to cultivate a US empire. Only days after 9/11, one of the top neoconservative think tanks in Washington, the Project for a New American Century, wrote an open letter to President Bush calling for regime change in Iraq. Before long, Bush, who campaigned in 2000 against nation building and excessive military intervention overseas, also began calling for regime change in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of Defense and a known neocon, out maneuvered the State Department and the CIA to get the Bush administration to set up the Special Plans unit.

Special Plans was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believed to be true – that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States. The Special Plans unit put together the case for weapons of mass destruction creating the need to invade Iraq. The neocon planners were ignorant of the fact that Iraq was made up of three provinces of the former Turkish Empire that Saddam Hussein held together by playing off tribal rivalries. Steve Brannon’s recent criticism of George W Bush feeds off the neocon bait and switch. The switch is rather than acknowledging total failure of the neoconservative policies that advocated for regimen change in Iraq, neocons promote the outcome as mismanagement by President George W. Bush.

Neocons believe any regime that is outwardly hostile to the US and could pose a threat should be confronted aggressively, not “appeased” or merely contained. The US military should be reconfigured around the world to allow for greater flexibility and quicker deployment to hot spots. Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to UN, is the new darling of the neocons following a scathing denunciation of the ‘flawed and very limited’ Iran nuclear deal at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), home of Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton. Conservative think tanks like the AEI also have many projects that support economic neoliberalism. AEI supported a 1980 study on the emerging ‘social cost’ arguments against smoking in support of the tobacco industry, and more recently supports various studies that cast doubt on global warming. AEI’s Federalism Project argues that the U.S. national government has usurped powers not delegated to it in the Constitution – that should rightfully be reserved for states (creating a race to bottom as states compete against each other for business).

Neoliberalism is a consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. It has no vision of the good society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. Neoliberal capitalism is associated with increasing income gradient between the rich and the rest of society. This increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society over the past four decades led to the hollowing out of the middle class, leaving many people angry.2 Milton Friedman’s claim policies that promote economic freedom is a necessary condition for political freedom appears flawed; it appears neoliberalism is a breeding ground for totalitarian tendencies, not free will and democracy.

During the first decade of the 21st century evidence accumulated that policies promoted by the neocons and neoliberals were flawed. Once the reality of the consequences of the economic debacle of 2008 set in that pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have more choices and a better life than their parents had been destroyed, many became angry and disillusioned. For the first time in modern history middle class children will likely end up poorer than their parents. Neo-conservative policy is promoted as a new way of looking at and thinking about American foreign policy. The neocons attacked Obama for being fainthearted in promoting exceptionalism, tried to torpedo Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran; vowed to support policies that push harder against all America’s rivals. The neocons have learned nothing since the 2002 disaster in Iraq.

The cause of the nightmare on Main Street is now obvious – it is the failure of economic and foreign policies promoted by various elites. The neoliberal policies are increasing anxiety in the community from increasing economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. Austerity policies used to discipline the working class, are actually designed to put money into the pockets of the economic elite in the near-term, while promising to balance the budget in the long-term. Rather that playing out Fukuyama’s final chapter in history, the neoconservative influence has caused a crisis of legitimacy of the global system. There is now increasing anxiety over what appears to be the rapidly disappearing ability of the US to influence events in the world. However, there is an opportunity for change to reduce the recurrence of the nightmare on main street – vote out the Republican majority in Congress in the 2018 elections.

1 Palley, Thomas. (18 April 2017) Trumponomics: Neocon Neoliberalism Camouflaged with Anti-Globalization Circus. https://www.socialeurope.eu/trumps-international-economic-policy-neocon-neoliberalism-camouflaged-anti-globalization-circus

2 Why Co-operation is Necessary (15 January 2017) http://questioningandskepticism.com/co-operation-necessary/

Posted in economic inequality, Global Economy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Post-fact Era: Economic Elite Determine What You Think

The word media comes from intermediate, operating between the news makers and the public. The propagandists are winning in the digital world of the ‘post-fact era’. The attention economy has transformed itself into the misinformation economy in which it is profitable for some players to use widespread lies, conspiracy theories, and other propaganda, especially through social media. PR experts now outnumber journalists. The media are now the lap dog of the government rather than the watchdog of government, and no longer advocate for the governed. It is now possible for an increasing group of highly professional spin doctors, as well as naïve citizen journalists, and trolls, (among them not only humans but robots) to flood the news with purposefully targeted misinformation. At onetime responsible media held the powerful accountable by asking them hard questions and reporting on what they do. Journalists are no longer the gate keeper of public discourse in the post-fact era.

In fact, algorithms are now so widespread, and so subtle, that some sociologists worry that they function as a form of “social control.” The role algorithms play in this dissemination process is the best kept secret of the internet giants which have already grown into huge global media companies obviously without taking any editorial responsibility for the nonsense they are multiplying on their platforms. A significant percentage of media accounts are believed to be social bots. Algorithms are replacing journalists, and social bots are substituting for real trolls. On behalf of their employers / operators they influence public opinion on the web using fake accounts on social media platforms where they foment hatred and distrust with thousands of varied comments, but especially by likes and shares which are used to trigger algorithms. Fake news may be the largest threat to our society, yet most people are not acutely aware of this, or how to spot it.

The success of authoritarian leaders like Putin in stabilizing their rule of power can be explained by the case they are increasingly taking over the media space. Putin understood the power of the media and immediately after assuming the presidency in 2000 began forcing major TV channels to submit to his will. Oligarch owners were either co-opted, jailed or exiled, and by 2006 most major Russian media were either directly or indirectly under Putin’s administration’s control. Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Alexey Gromov, controls the political coverage and decides what foreign and domestic policies are to be covered, and how and, more importantly what is not to be covered. At Putin’s annual press conference all media are compelled to cover these news stories in order to not lose out in web traffic, although there is precious little news to cover. Putin uses loyalist media to ask softball questions to appear an omniscient and wise leader. Bits of trivial information are spoon fed to reporters through ‘informal sources familiar with the matter’ – so even critical outlets end up promoting the Kremlin’s bent by reporting what is essentially non-news.1

At one time Trump ruled the tabloid media with a combination of on the record bluster and off the record bluster. During the election Trump threatened the media directly suggesting he would open up the libel laws so he can have an easier time suing. Once Bannon joined his election team, he turned on the news media with escalating rhetoric, labeling major outlets as ‘the enemy of the people.’ Trump’s antics about such issues as the NFL are not accidental, he is getting feedback and constantly incorporating trends into his messages. Recently Trump suggested federal powers be used to revoke news licenses of networks to punish media who make unflattering comments about him. One thing is clear in both the US and Russia, the media are often distracted with outrage over absurd behaviour and non-sensical public statements, while ignoring what those in power want to be ignored.

Since the 2010 US Supreme Court decision that removed virtually any limits on how much money on US federal elections, and how much individuals can give to political action committees, the economic elite have been funding various activities to influence election results. Why did hedge fund billionaire Bob Mercer who is part of the economic elite, spent millions during the 2016 campaign to get Trump elected? Hillary Clinton did propose a tax on high-frequency trading of securities, which is reportedly a favorite of Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies. The Mercer Family Foundation gave nearly $3.6 million to Citizens United between 2012 and 2014, which sued for access to Clinton Foundation-related emails and whose president David Bossie also got a senior job on the Trump campaign. They’ve also invested in the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), which publishes the conservative author Peter Schweizer. Mercer’s investments in GAI, Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica paid dividends in the 2016 election.

Breitbart is owned in part by Bob Mercer, and run by Steve Bannon. Schweizer’s book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, a fearmongering look at the Clinton finances, was an influential source of talking points for Trump allies during this election cycle, providing fodder for one of Trump’s early salvos against Clinton and regularly populating the pages of Breitbart. Bannon co-founded GAI with Schweizer in 2012; with the stated mission to investigate and expose crony capitalism, misuse of taxpayer monies, and other governmental corruption or malfeasance.2 GAI creates rigorous, fact-based indictments against major politicians, then shops them to mainstream media outlets to disseminate those findings to the broadest audience. Bannon together with Bob Mercer and his daughter Rebecca Mercer, worked to ensure the victory of Republican insurgent, Roy Moore, in the Alabama Senate primary – part of the ongoing efforts of economic elite to influence the system.

Cambridge Analytica is a data mining and data analysis company supported by the family of Bob Mercer that creates strategic communication for the election process. This company found Facebook profiles – especially people’s likes – could be correlated across millions of others to produce remarkably accurate results. With the knowledge of 150 likes this model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse, and with 300 it understood you better than yourself. It’s about emotions – it takes your physical, mental, and lifestyle attributes and works out how people function, how they react emotionally. This means your mind can be changed – behavior can be predicted and controlled. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their back. This provides the economic elite with sophisticated knowledge capabilities to propagate narratives, ushering in a new era of propaganda.3

Now the war of the bots creates many ways public opinion can be massaged and manipulated. Before the US election hundreds upon hundreds of websites were set up to blast out just a few links – articles that were all pro-Trump. This automation was used to blast out a certain message to make Trump look like he’s consensus. The system is also used to identify an existing trending topic – even if it is fake news – then weaponize it. It took Hillary’s emails, turned the news agenda, and, most crucially, diverted the attention of the news cycle – for all intensive purpose with ‘strategic drowning of the message.’ There are still snakes in the grass. There are sleeper bots – twitter accounts that have only tweeted once or twice, now quiet, waiting for a trigger: some sort of crisis where they will rise up and come together to drown out all other information. Many of these techniques were refined in Russia.

Today we live in a world where those who can afford to spend the most money to have their version of it advertised widely define truth. Post-factual politics is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. The neoliberals promoted minimal government and regulations which led to the looting of the public coffers by tax cuts and the accumulation of ‘public’ debt. In Canada and the US, neoliberalism has not succeeded in reducing either poverty or inequality. Austerity policies are code to ensure that governments do not expand safety nets to handle the problems of under employment and insecurity created by neoliberal policies. Today in the post-fact era people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts.

The mass media do not supply just facts and data, they also provide information on the ultimate meaning and significance of events which individuals use in decision-making. Relying on the internet and social media-based news, and the accompanying rush to be first to report a story increases the opportunity for misinformation being introduced. The immediate problem is not the five conglomerates that control 90% of the media. The real problem is the economic elite who now have the capabilities to propagate narratives in the media irrespective of who owns it. The Supreme Court decision in 2010 in favour of Citizens United that freedom of speech prohibits the government from restricting how much money corporations and non-profit groups can spend on US federal elections, must be reconsidered. Such action is required to address the fact that in the post-fact era individual choice is being undermined – economic elite can now determine what you think.

1 The Putin paradox: In Putin’s Russia, the hollowed-out media mirrors the state. (24 Mar 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/24/putin-russia-media-state-government-control

2 Gray, Rosie. What Does the Billionaire Family Backing Donald Trump Really Want? (27 Jan 2017) https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/01/no-one-knows-what-the-powerful-mercers-really-want/514529/

3 Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media (26 Feb 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage

Posted in neoliberalism | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment