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/

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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

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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

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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

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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/

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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

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The Penalization of Poverty in a Class System

Almost all of the British economists of the late 18th century said when you have poverty, when you have a transfer of wealth to the rich, you are going to have shorter life spans. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, countries like the Baltic states and Russia have seen death rates soar and life spans shortened due to worsening conditions after the implementation of neoliberal policies. Who is living longer in Canada and the US? The rich are living longer. The wealthy are living longer. The expansion and glorification of police, the courts, and penitentiary system are a response not to criminal insecurity, but to the social insecurity caused by the casualization of wage labour – the process by which employment is changing from full-time and contract positions to casual positions. How do neoliberals maintain the illusion that their ideology promotes human well-being and freedom for all?

In the second decade of the 21st century we now realize that the Canadian and American middle class has been stripped of jobs, income, and security over the past forty years. We need to replace socioeconomic status with class as the significant structural factor in determining health. These structural changes in society have created a rapidly increasing underclass of the working poor. Social inequalities, such as income, are a consequence of structural change in class power. It is about the rise of business power and the decline in labor power (as part of the era of globalization) along with the attacks of the “new right” on the welfare state – consequently there is a rapid rise in social, income and health inequalities. These changes create increased inequities and insecurity. Class, now an important social determinant of health, needs to be addressed to ensure the social mobility necessary for all individuals have an opportunity to reach their potential.

The increased investment in the penal system is a response to social insecurity, not a reaction to crime trends. The police, the courts, and the prisons have been deployed to contain the consequences of urban dislocation wrought by economic dislocation and underemployment, and to impose the discipline of insecure employment at the bottom of the polarized class structure. These institutions are needed to bend the factions of the post-industrial working class to precarious wage-work, to warehouse their most disruptive and superfluous elements, and to patrol the boundaries of the ‘deserving’ citizenry while reasserting the authority of the state in the restricted domain that it now finds itself. The increasing penalization of poverty is a response to social insecurity; a result of public policy that weds the ‘invisible hand’ of the market to the ‘iron fist’ of the penal state, says Loïc Wacquant.1

The rule of the ‘free market’ and the coming of ‘small government’ captures the ideology of neoliberalism, not its reality. There are two realities. There is the ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards the corporations and the economic elite. Then there is the fiercely interventionist and authoritarian actions when it comes to dealing with the destructive consequences of economic deregulation for those at the lower end of the class and status spectrum. The imposition of market discipline translates into diffusion of social instability and turbulence among the working class. The stinginess of the welfare system and the munificence of the penal system are linked under the guidance of morals. In the punitive management of poverty, police have a role in regulating and disciplining subjects of the neoliberal state. Neoliberalism requires institutions along with specific tools to support it, among them an enlarged and energetic police and penal institution.

In the 1990s New York City cut taxes, eliminated thousands of city jobs, and significantly decreased funding to the city university system, health system, and the housing support system. The philosophy was that the job of government was to get out of the way. This was accompanied by simultaneously upsizing its police force. Over the 1990s New York City added 6,000 new police officers to its ranks, giving it the most police officers per capita of any of the ten largest cities in the US, and expanded public safety funding by fifty-three per cent. Neoliberals ushered in increasing government intervention around the idea of crime which led to punitive governance of disproportionate marginalized communities – eroding the police’s legitimacy and ultimately making poor people, and people of colour, feel less secure. This supports a punitive state that turns to incarceration as a solution to structural economic inequality and political instability. Basically, the government gets out of the way, except in the penal system.2

Neoliberalism systematically protects white privilege through the colour blind and seductive rhetoric of free enterprise, free markets and common sense. In the US at the time of the welfare cuts of the 1990s, the images of young black male ‘gangsta’ and the ‘welfare queen’ were portrayed as grave threat to the financial recovery. Wacquant considers the tightening of the punitive system as a political response not to rising criminality but to defuse the sense of social insecurity caused by labour deregulation and welfare cuts. Football players in the US taking a knee during the national anthem is a silent protest against racial and social injustice against minorities. Trump’s attack on the NFL is to keep workers distracted from the real causes of economic inequality in order to sustain the status quo. His ‘America first’ anti-globalist, nationalist neoliberal agenda still requires the infrastructure for the punitive management of poverty.

Obamacare was part of the neoliberal restructuring of healthcare in America. Its structure was dictated by the perceived political need to change the existing coverage and challenge entrenched interests as little as possible. However, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with its tax-funded subsidies remained a significant challenge to neoliberals. The latest Republican proposal to undo the ACA would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people. Such legislation would roll back popular consumer protections in the ACA, leaving each state to decide what minimum benefits must be covered or if customers with pre-existing illnesses should be protected from higher prices. The changes would reduce the amount of federal funding for coverage over the next decade, which would guarantee death rates soar and life spans of the working class shortened due to reduced affordable health care options after the implementation.

In 2005, an early apologist for globalization, Tom Friedman declared, “the world is flat.” He was suggesting that technology was a great leveling force that would soon topple all the old political and economic oligarchies, and give more people more chances to reach their potential. In the past twelve years Canada and the US have grown more economically stratified and politically corrupt, and have fewer well-paying jobs. Globalization is the spread of the economic system of capitalism. Neoliberalism is the main driver of globalization – the economic elite claim laissez-faire capitalism promotes human well-being, economic efficiency, and personal freedom. This implies that the state should assume a highly minimal and purely regulatory form and should refrain from most forms of economic intervention, even in the face of market mechanisms leading to reduced economic efficiency. Under national neoliberalism, the goal to wholly deregulate the global market society is not possible.

Real life is nothing like the neoliberal narrative. Support for neoliberalism comes from enabling the myths of privatization, deregulation, and retrenchment of the welfare state. The 2016 election was all about jobs and growth and a belief that tax cuts and reducing government spending is the way to achieve both. Neoliberal myths constrain our understanding of poverty. The neoliberal narrative has run into some inconvenient facts: The 2008 global economic crisis might suggest that the neoliberal promise – that markets can self-regulate and deliver sustained prosperity for all – was a lie. The oligarchs ensure the public conversation is mired in misinformation. The Great Depression taught us that without government intervention, capitalism is inherently unstable and prone to delivering lengthy periods of unemployment. Rather than a failure of the system to create enough jobs, an idea that underpinned the New Deal consensus, mass unemployment is now depicted as an individual problem – poor work attitudes leading to a lack of job-seeking – exacerbated by excessively generous welfare payments.

While many believe they have special access to the truth, the reality is that we all see the world not as it is, but as we want it to be. The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said, “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The ‘free marketplace’ is a grand illusion for those in power to promote to justify dominance over those who are less privileged. Of course, it is based on greed being a virtue, relying on a system to harness the selfishness of people and direct it to public good, thus freeing itself from the need to depend unrealistically upon the uncertain moral virtues of its participants. Neoliberal economics is a sleight-of-hand maneuver to convince the electorate that tax cuts were really in the interest of the middle class, not simply the superrich, because the cuts more than paid for themselves. Incarceration and the penalization of poverty must be rejected as a solution to structural economic inequality and political gridlock. We must walk through the doors of illusion and stand firm, spreading the new awareness and reinforcing and supporting thoughts and actions that affirm our humanity, and work for a better future.

1 Wacquant, Loïc. (1 Aug 2011) The Punitive Regulation of Poverty in the Neoliberal Age https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/lo%c3%afc-wacquant/punitive-regulation-of-poverty-in-neoliberal-age

2 Kaplan-Lyman, Jeremy. (18 Feb 2014) A Punitive Bind: Policing, Poverty, and Neoliberalism in New York City. http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1114&context=yhrdlj

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Ideas Have Consequences: the Explosion of Inequality

Capitalist classes once believed in the idea that Keynesian economic policies, including redistribution of wealth within the system, guaranteed strong and sustained growth. Then they took advantage of economic crisis to change the system. By the 1970s, when high inflation and economic stagnation engulfed the system, the ruling classes opted to abandon the compromise and to shift to an open class war on labour – in order to restructure the system to restore capital accumulation. The consequence of neoliberal ideas was the transfer of enormous wealth to the capitalist class from workers, but it did not bring about a new age of economic growth. Neoliberals continue to maintain that the market delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning. However, at any one time one-third of families do not earn 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.

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. Under the cultural trope of ‘individual responsibility’ welfare for the poor is cut and restructured to make welfare recipients more responsible for their economic status. This takes the focus from the inherit inequality in the system and focuses on the distribution, specifically its disproportionate effect on the excluded – such as the unemployed, minorities and immigrants. The issue is no longer unemployment as such, but its over representation among certain groups and hence the discrimination to which they have clearly been subjected. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality.

Rather than think about why such poverty is occurring in Canada or the US, many blame the poor themselves for the poverty crisis. The Great Recession should have put the victim-blaming theory of poverty to rest. In the space of only a few months, millions of people entered the ranks of the officially poor – not only laid-off blue-collar workers, but also downsized tech workers, managers, lawyers, and other once-comfortable professionals. No one could accuse these “nouveau poor” Americans of having made bad choices or bad lifestyle decisions. They were educated, hardworking, and ambitious, and now they were also poor – applying for food stamps, showing up in shelters, and lining up for entry-level jobs in retail.  Poor decision-making of individuals in the financial services industry, with self-tolerance and a sense of entitlement, leveraging the market brought chaos on the world financial system in 2008. Poverty has increased as a result of the recession; while banks went on to net the biggest profits in years.

A consequence of neoliberalism is the reconfiguration of class relations in a society where the explosion of inequality and economic instability has profoundly dismantled the working class. This system replaces exploitation with the problem of surplus population that consists of the unemployed, the impoverished, immigrants, the under-employed, and the insecurely employed. As soon as unemployment began ticking upward and became ‘structural’, the concentration of unemployment helped to produce within the working class, both in theory and practice, a group without work who were truly isolated from those with work. The post-industrial society is divided between those who have access to the labour market and those, in varying degrees, who do not. Neoliberal capitalism has enlisted these two fractions of the proletariat into destructive competition against each other. The clash is no longer between labour and the privileged elite rather between a proletariat that pays taxes with an underclass that relies on a system of handouts and entitlements.

Poverty exists because of the existing social system. An astonishing number of people are working at low paying jobs. Many more households are now headed by a single parent, making it difficult for them to earn a living income from jobs that are typically available. There has been a crisis in low paying jobs for the past forty years. In the US one-quarter of the jobs pay below the poverty line for a family of four, while one-third of the population struggle to make ends meet every month. Wages for those on the bottom half have been struck since 1973 – increasing less than ten percent. The Great Recession of 2008 was a wake-up call – there are significant holes in the safety net and increase in extreme poverty. Poverty is a structural phenomenon – people are in poverty because they find themselves in holes in the economic system.

Poverty is not a personal choice, rather a reflection of society. The US cut spending on health insurance and safety nets that protect the poor and marginalized people because of a culture that emphasises individual responsibility. The proponents of this policy claim poor and minorities need only make better choice – work harder, stay in school, do not have children until they can afford them. This is a simplistic view that implies poverty is a state of mind. This thinking ignores the root causes of poverty shaped by society and beyond the control of individuals. Societal barriers are structural causes of poverty and inequality. The necessary changes to overcome these barriers include make the rich pay their fair share of running the country, raise the minimum wage, and provide health care and a decent safety net. Without structural changes, it may be very difficult if not impossible to eliminate inequities and poverty.

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. There are significant barriers to change – the obscene amount of money flowing into the electoral process makes change harder yet. What sustains neoliberalism is the ability to which it has been able – explicitly but more often without anyone realizing it – to penetrate and restructure the vision of its opponents. This dynamic will impede people power action that was seen in the Great Depression. It is necessary to challenge the monolithic power of corporations supported by an ideology serving the interest of financial capital and globalized elites in the redistribution of wealth upward.

The first thing needed to get people out of poverty is more jobs that pay decent wages. There needs to be a bigger investment in education and skill development strategies. For change we need to do something about both the system people participate in and how they participate in it. Neoliberals claim poverty is an individual phenomenon and say it is primarily their own fault – the poor just need to focus and work harder. However, based on this theory of individual responsibility, one would need to only run faster / worker harder and get someone else to take their place in the bottom fifth; may get you out of poverty, but won’t get rid of poverty itself. Individuals rise and fall in the class system. Social problems are more than an accumulation of individual woes; they can’t be solved through an accumulation of individual solutions.

In 1984, Charles Murray published Losing Ground. Its central thesis was that all government welfare programs should be abolished, supposedly because welfare hurt the very people it was intended to help by “rewarding bad behavior” such as “illegitimate babies.” Murray also called for ending food stamp programs. Murray’s manipulation of data claimed to show welfare programs were the cause of minority poverty, rather than the cure. In order to get the numbers to work to “prove” that liberal social welfare spending created poverty, Murray excluded government spending on the elderly from his “evidence.” As Lester Thurow, former dean of MIT’s Sloan School of Management noted, 86% of federal social welfare spending went to programs to help the elderly; and the poverty rate for the elderly dropped from 25.3% in 1969 to 14.1% in 1983, refuting Murray’s thesis. There is no science to support Murray’s social Darwinism ideas that the economic elite exploit to persuade themselves they acquired their wealth through merit.1

It is necessary to win the war of ideas – to overcome what Gramsci described as cultural hegemony. The now dominant economic doctrine has been carefully nurtured over the decades through thought, action, and misinformation. It was bought and paid for by economic elite who stand to gain from its implementation. If some ideas are to become more fashionable than another, they must be financed: it takes money to build intellectual infrastructure (foundations) to develop and promote the neoliberal worldview. Gramsci observes defining, sustaining and controlling culture is crucial: get into people’s head and you will acquire their hearts, their hands and destinies. Presently, the ideas around neoliberal laws of the market excludes one-third of US society from fully participating in community activities. It is necessary to return to laws based on equality of persons rather than laws of the market. Those who refuse to act on the knowledge that ideas have consequences end up suffering them.2

1 The Social Contract of the Neoliberals. (23 July 2016) http://questioningandskepticism.com/social-contract-neoliberals/

2 George, Susan. “How to Win the War of Ideas: Lessons from the Gramscian Right” http://ceimsa.org/ateliers2/a11/art11-1.html

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Class War: Countering Misinformation Among the Working Class

Noam Chomsky notes, “We don’t use the term ‘working class’ because it is a taboo term. You’re supposed to say ‘middle class’ because it helps diminish the understanding that there is a class war going on.” In a regime faithful to neoliberal tenets, governance must be carried out within the constraints of the doctrines of limited government and self-regulating markets. This type of management shifts the locus of power away from citizens and their representatives towards those with capital. Defending individual freedom is used as a rallying cry by neoliberals to legitimatize emasculating governing agencies. But this choice gives rise to an apparent dilemma, namely in the absence of a robust civil government, who exercises power and how is it exercised? How do they respond to the call to deal with the fact wages of working class Americans have been stagnant or falling? The answer is neoliberals shrilly accuse Obama of initiating a class war when he prepares to unveil plans for increased taxes on those earning more than one million dollars a year.

Consequences of the Black Death included a series of cultural, religious and economic influences culminating in the end of the Middle Ages and the emergence of the Renaissance. The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1347 and 1350 with 30% to 60% of the population killed. As the Black Death swung the balance in the peasant’s favor, the literate elite bemoaned a disintegrating social and economic order. The rural worker bargained for less onerous responsibilities and better conditions, and received higher payments in cash in the plague’s aftermath. The Black Death led to a great questioning of the old certainties. Many increasingly turned to the classics to find answers to the problems of life. In mid-15th century refugees from Constantinople brought Roman and Greek manuscripts, which became available for many through the newly invented printing press. The Renaissance ideas introduced humanist principles that included human rights like freedom and dignity.

Economically and politically, the plague caused an upward distribution of wealth in the long run, as the nobility and the church took over the land of plague victims. This great wealth in the nobility and the church started off a patronage war between the nobility (the old money), the church, and the new money traders who were reaping the benefits of newfound commercialism in Italy. Their way of fighting for power/respect often took the form of seeing who could pay artists and intellectuals the most as a part of patronage. This made artistry a lucrative profession, and sparked one of the greatest art movements in European history, the Renaissance. Education was central to the humanist movement since humanists believed that education could change immensely human beings. Humanists wrote books on education and developed secondary schools based on their ideas. All of the achievements and discoveries of the Renaissance became the building blocks of the Enlightenment progress.

The upper class in the German regions of the Holy Roman Empire began clawing back many of the freedoms the peasants had achieved following the Black Death. This led to the peasants’ revolt of 1524. The Twelve Articles outlined the peasant’s demands for social, economic and religious reforms. These included mitigation on rate of interest, compulsory service to the lords and princes, and legal penalties, for restoration of former economic conditions, and the free rights to land use, hunting and fishing – the return of the commons. The upper classes survived by exploiting the peasant and plebeian classes and saw the danger in offering them equality. It triggered a class war. About one hundred thousand combatants and civilians were killed before the fighting died down in late 1525. The defeat of the peasants and the poorer classes in the towns brought a complete repudiation of their demands for a more just economic system.

John Locke (1632-1704), one of the British Empiricists, argued that all of our ideas are ultimately derived from experience, and the knowledge of which we are capable is therefore severely limited in its scope and certainty. Locke was one of the originators of the social contract theory – a persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live. Locke’s father was a captain of cavalry for the Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War. Locke was in fact most concerned with defending the gentry, the property-owning élite who desired to be protected from the potential tyranny of a powerful monarch who could seize property. In 17th century England, the franchise and the right to sit as a Member of Parliament were strictly limited to the property-owning class. Thus only a small percentage of the population had access to the English Parliament that vaunted its supremacy with regard to the Monarchy.

During the Enlightenment, as during the Renaissance, private secondary schools were mostly dominated by religious orders, especially by the Jesuits. However, a great difference with the Renaissance was the development of new schools designed to provide a broader education, which offered modern languages, geography and bookkeeping, preparing students for careers in business. Among the most important technological innovations of the Renaissance was the printing press. This process was vital for the diffusion of knowledge and humanist ideas. The expansion of both, publishing and the reading public, became particularly visible during the Enlightenment. Even though, as during the Renaissance, most of the published works were aimed at small groups of educated elite, there appeared more publications for the new reading public. This new reading public consisted mainly of the middle classes and included women and urban artisans. While it is common to conceive of the Enlightenment as supplanting the authority of tradition and religious dogma with the authority of reason, in fact the Enlightenment is characterized by a crisis of authority regarding any belief.

The trick neoliberals employ is to maintain the myth of democracy through regular elections, but to separate any real power from the hands of those elected. Because they theorize a regime of self-regulating markets without the need of government, elected officials become simply the agents who ensure the preservation of the rule of law, and the establishment of an environment in which negotiations can take place between competing agents. The question of power is abandoned completely and thrown behind the veil of the neutral market. And it is not likely that proponents would see the neoliberal regime as representing a new form of tyranny, being convinced, in the tradition of Adam Smith, that the system harnesses the selfishness of the people and directs it to public good, thus freeing itself from the need to depend unrealistically on the uncertain moral virtues of its participants.

The question posed is who exercises power in a neoliberal regime, that is to say, in a regime which designates individual freedom as the cardinal value to be preserved, and which, as a result, functions by putting its faith in self-regulating markets. We see that this type of governance gives no specific role to government to represent the common interest; instead a variety of stakeholders bargain settlements. For neoliberals, governance is thus reduced to the role of managing conflict and organizing negotiations between stakeholders in a free market environment. In this type of regime characterized by self-regulating markets, participation in decision-making requires the person to be an economic actor. Governments become one actor among many, thereby abandoning their reformist liberal role of imposing limits on the capital-holding class, and of representing the general interest, notably as the advocate of equal opportunity.  In other words, without capital there is no access to the locus of power.1

While corporate profits and executive pay have soared during the past decade, corporate boards and CEOs have crushed unions, demanded tax cuts, and lobbied for roll backs of government policies that help the working class and protect the environment. This is a class war the haves have declared on the have-nots to maximize profits by depressing wages.  Because of media bias low income voters tend to evaluate the state of the economy in accordance with income going to the most wealthy. This level of misinformation makes possible the adoption of policies that benefit the wealthiest citizens at the expense of the great majority of the American people. The economic elite funnel money to Washington to influence government policies in their favour. At the same time the working class has steadily lost influence on Capitol Hill, most notably because of the decline of unions. Unions played an important role in countering the political misinformation among the working class.

A small group of America’s business leaders have declared war against Main Street. How can the class war that the economic elite have declared on the working class be won, when the current political system is so utterly unresponsive to the will and the needs of the majority? Participation in public opinion polls and voting will not be enough to reinstate an accountable democratic government that will reverse the disturbing trend of growing economic inequality. Humanists (of the Renaissance) believed that human beings could be dramatically changed by education. Education of the Enlightenment sought to liberate the human mind from dogma and encourage questioning and skepticism to seek knowledge and truth. We now understand the etiology of the increasing economic inequality. An effort must be made to counter the misinformation among the working class and educate the 99% that neoliberalism is class war waged by economic elite against the working class.

1 Ives, Andrew. (26 Aug 2015) Neoliberalism and the concept of governance: Renewing with an older liberal tradition to legitimate the power of capital http://mimmoc.revues.org/2263 DOI :10.4000/mimmoc.2263

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On Identity Politics, Poor Governance and Health Inequities

Neoliberals reject actions of the New Dealers to apply their brand of Keynesian, interventionist political economy. In a regime faithful to neoliberal tenants, governance must be carried out within the constraints of the doctrine of limited government and self-regulating markets. This type of management shifts the locus of power away from citizens and their representatives towards those with capital. Governments adopt the neoliberal governance model creating the mechanism of a free market for decision making-processes. This returns to the past to place power in the hands of the bourgeoisie, today recognized as the economic elite – a group who has capital to invest and whose goal is to accumulate more. With the increasing economic gap and reduced social mobility, progressives now focus on the exploitation created by the neoliberal policies of minimal government and regulation. In return, discrimination (reverse racism) has become part of the neoliberal narrative of inequality. Identity politics have become an issue.

The adoption of the neoliberal governance model allows the introduction of the concept of stakeholder. Now a government mandated by the people is reduced to one actor in the decision-making process, rather than the essential dominant decider. Instead of seeing their role as representing the public interest, and protecting that interest by imposing limits on the power of the private actors, this definition of governance puts the government on equal footing with other actors. Instead of being subject to limits imposed by government, private factions then become negotiating partners. There is no longer a role for the government as an advocate for the general interest; instead government is seen as one actor representing a competing interest with other legitimate actors. The public interest is assumed to be met by reaching ‘agreements’ with the various actors. Under the neoliberal era, this concept of governance has contributed to putting decision-making power back into the hands of those who possess capital, and limiting the influence of government and their regulatory agencies.

Private money plays an important role in US politics since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling removed virtually all limits corporations and non-profit groups can spend on federal elections, and how much individuals can give to political action groups. Neoliberal activity has blown the social contract apart. The consequence is intense anxiety from increased economic insecurity that distracts a worrisome percentage of people. What makes our society unstable is when the illusions around income inequality start to disappear. People can or are more willing to overlook income inequality as long as their quality of life remains unchanged. As long as the greediness of the neoliberals does not affect their day to day life – your retirement is funded, you can afford to take vacations – you are willing to look away while the economic elite are doing their thing. However, this ultimately becomes the problem, enough is not really enough for certain rich individuals. Unless there are checks and balances, the economic elite keep working the system until it breaks down.1

When introducing electoral reforms to the British Parliament in 1831, the prime minister, Earl Grey said, “There is no-one more decided against annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and the ballot, than I … I am reforming to preserve, not to overthrow.” The reforms that extended political power from a narrow elite to larger sections of society were immediately viewed as a success not because of some ideal of enlightenment or democracy, rather because the threat of revolution or further unrest was avoided. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), was one of the greatest 19th century British philosophers, whose ethical theory was to justify the utilitarian principle as the foundation of morals. Mill’s observations on utilitarianism: “Actions are right in the proportions as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” Dissatisfied with both socialism and capitalism, Mill envisioned a hybrid system in order to promote the individualism of the worker. He was fully aware of the harms wrought by the capitalist system of the late 19th century and notes the system is failing to produce widespread happiness – too many hard-working individuals are unfairly consigned to poverty. Mill’s conclusion: there is no good reason – there is no natural and therefore immutable reason – to live with the consequences of economic laws if we do not like the effects of these laws.2

What about today’s economic governance? Thomas Piketty observes capitalism in the 21st century has concentrated so much wealth in the hands of so few, while the millions left behind are now angry at the system. The middle class society that flourished for a generation after World War II has vanished. After 1980 the lion’s share of economic gains went to the top end of the income distribution, with families in the bottom half lagging behind. Today the economy is not controlled by talented individuals, rather by family dynasties. Piketty’s argument is that in an economy where the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth, inherited wealth will always grow faster than earned wealth. Economic neoliberalism creates levels of inequality that for all intensive purposes is not reversible by itself. Piketty concludes the level of inequality in the US is ‘probably higher than in any other society in the past, anywhere in the world.’

During the primaries, Senator Bernie Sanders was able to tap into the anger of voters – and was able to make income inequality an issue for a reason. Now there is a permanent income inequality plank in the Democratic Party progressive agenda. Republicans have effectively turned identity politics against Democrats with such language as ‘thought police’ and ‘politically correct’. Many believe the Democrats lost the 2016 election because of identity politics – catering to cultural or social interests of groups such as gays, Muslims, blacks and transgender populations. Basically because the Democratic Party embraced racial, religious and sexual minorities, they were abandoned by a significant segment of working-class white people. Remember John Stuart Mill claimed there should be opportunities for individual fulfillment for all members of society. It is not racism that creates differences between classes; it is capitalism. Instead of a more complicated understanding of identity (race, sex), we need a more profound understanding of exploitation.

In the 19th century Bentham recognized the exploitive character of the capitalist relationship. Inequality and inequity are not interchangeable. Inequity is unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion. It is the result of human failure giving rise to avoidable deaths and disease. It is necessary to focus on the economy with its multifaceted connections to social issues. Inequities reduce the freedom and opportunities for an individual to reach their full potential in general, and wellness or good health, in particular. Inequity is the biggest factor affecting the health of the population. Health equity suggests that everyone can reach their full health potential and that they should not be disadvantaged from attaining this potential as a result of their class, socioeconomic status or other socially determined circumstance. The present economic situation is associated with an increasing inequity and poverty in Canada and the US.

Neoliberalism casts inequality as virtuous – as everyone gets what they deserve. Many now believe it is not enough to define poverty as not having enough material resources to merely survive, but rather having enough resources to participate in society in a meaningful way. Peter Townsend’s definition of poverty: people are deprived if they cannot obtain at all, or sufficiently the conditions of life – diets, amenities, standards and services – which allow them to play the roles, participate in relationships and follow the customary behavior which is expected of them by virtue of their membership in society. The consequences of the lack of participation are disengagement from school, community and political affairs. The stress that comes from the inequality of our society, and in particular from economic inequality, may have more effect on our health than any other single factor.

The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. Poverty is a key factor underlying whether these determinants of health can be obtained. Social inequity is unfair, avoidable, differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion. With the increasing income gap, many have lost their previous opportunity to achieve their potential – inequities potentially leave the most vulnerable at sustained risk and disadvantage.

Progressives must avoid identity politics in public messaging. This is why it is necessary to focus messaging on poor governance and health inequities associated with neoliberal policies. Health inequities are differences in health status between population groups that are socially produced, and systematic in their unequal distribution across the population, but avoidable and unfair. Living in a society that tolerates large gaps between the rich and the poor is bad for your health. There is a strong and widespread consensus that income and social status are the most important determinants of health across populations. Neoliberal governance is not an innovative and efficient management technique, rather a means to impose unpopular decisions related to the dismantling of New Deal reforms, and to conceal the return of decision-making power to the economic elites. The new system must make economic and environment decisions through the lens of the social determinants of health in order to counter the inequity in the system.

1 Ives, Andrew. Neoliberalism and the concept of governance: Renewing with an older liberal tradition to legitimate the power of capital. (2015) https://mimmoc.revues.org/2263

2 Lenard, Patti. (04 Aug 2016) John Stuart Mill and the importance of individuality. http://www.policy-network.net/pno_detail.aspx?ID=6124&title=John-Stuart-Mill-and-the-importance-of-individuality

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