The divine right of kings is a Christian political doctrine that hereditary monarchy is the system approved by God; monarchs are accountable to God alone for their actions, and rebellion against the lawful sovereign is therefore blasphemous. Ideology of the divine right of kings aimed at instilling obedience by explaining why all social ranks were religiously and morally obliged to obey the government. The 16th century nation states ruled on persuasion rather than coercion to instill obedience. This propaganda was spread through teaching and preaching – failure to obey is sedition, and morally wrong and will result in divine retribution. The message is this is the best form of government and requires no change. The largest institution at the time, the church sanctioned the rule of the king and the king defended the church in return against change. The opinion that private property in land is necessary to society is a comparatively modern idea, as artificial and as baseless as the divine right of kings. In England, the commons, once so extensive, largely contributed to the independence and support of the lower classes.
Corporations, such as the East India Company, have been around in The Netherlands since the 17th century. The advantage of having a corporation over being an individual investor in trade voyages was the fact that individual debts could be inherited by descendants. A corporate charter, however, was limited in its risks just to the amount that was invested – a right not accorded to individuals. Corporations had therefore the potential from the onset to become very powerful. Following the labour accord around pensions and benefits post Second World War, corporations became a model of long-term employment, providing pathways to economic security and opportunities for upward mobility. By the end of the 20th century American corporations had changed from being pillars of the economy and providing career employment with benefits.
Now the market place is deemed to be a superior information processor, so therefore all human knowledge can be used to its fullest only if it is comprehensively owned and priced. However, the financial return to the shareholder in the terms of dollars is no more rational in the boardroom of the 21st century corporations than in the factories of a 19th mill town – the corporate directors do not do any more than reduce every decision to a financial one. Under neoliberal capitalism employment shifted from career to job, to the task. Now a tiny majority reaps enormous benefits of neoliberalism, while damage to the ecosystem and individuals seems insurmountable.
Neoliberalism broadly describes a regulatory system, encompassing economic policies emphasizing the market deregulation, privatization and an altered role for the state. Markets are the arbitrator of all issues and can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes, the better off the system will be. Public services should be privatized, public spending should be cut, and business should be freed from social control. Where neoliberal capitalism has been more fiercely applied, in countries like the US and the UK, social mobility has greatly declined. Today, success or failures are ascribed solely to the efforts of the individual. The neoliberal model insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification, and now people are technically free but powerless. Neoliberalism is associated with the policies of austerity and attempts to reduce budget deficits usually by cutting government spending on social programs. Neoliberal policies increase inequality. This inequality can harm long-term growth prospects. Those with low income have limited spending power and those who become richer have a higher marginal propensity to save, so wealth does not ‘trickle down’ as some suggest.
At the individual-level, neoliberalism insists that rationality, individuality and self-interest guide all actions. Each person is their own undertaking as a self-entrepreneur, existing in a series of prescribed relationships that are governed by the logic of self-improvement. It is up to us to make ourselves better, we are told, and the system simply supplies us with the appropriate tools to use – tasks to undertake and ladders to climb so that we may realize our potential. Precarious workers in this era of insecurity go from job to job, depending on the availability and demand. With no job security and few benefits, the precarious worker now views his development and subsequent success or failure as his own responsibility. Meanwhile, the workings of the system and the pressure to take on such precarious jobs are invisible. Neoliberalism sees the new normal as empowering individuals, and the shifting economy as a valid reason for underemployment.
In 1989 Philip Morris sponsored a touring exhibition of the Bill of Rights. Philip Morris placed advertisements celebrating the freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in dozens of magazines and newspapers. The themes of liberty and freedom of expression were highlighted to gain support for the company’s claim of the First Amendment to advertise and to rally support opposing restaurant smoking bans. The Koch brothers support the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Right to Work Committee designed to undermine unions. ALEC develops model bills supporting the rubric ‘right to work’ touted as giving workers freedom not to join unions. It is based on individual rights of non-union members to enjoy benefits of union representation, such as higher wages and improved working conditions. This legislation is meant to destroy unions. These are examples of how corporations and the wealthy elite manipulate the constitution to serve the interest of financial capital and globalized elite in redistribution of wealth upward.
Neoliberals claim the market will arbitrate any and all responses to climate change. The neoliberals have developed a whole spectrum of responses to global warming. This includes a short-term plan, a medium-term plan and a long-term plan. The consequence of this approach is to leave the problem to be solved, ultimately not by the state, but rather by the market. The short-term plan is denialism; the medium-term involves carbon credits, applying financialization to the issue; the long-term plan incorporates geo-engineering solutions such as natural gas providing clean energy. Each component of the neoliberal response is firmly grounded in neoliberal economic doctrine, and as such, has its own special function to perform. The purpose of climate science denial has been to quash all immediate impulse to respond to perceived crisis and buy time for commercial interests to construct some other eventual market solution to global warming. Denial is cheap and easy to propagate and draw attention away from appropriate responses from the truth.1
Neoliberal capitalism applies to all sectors of society. Their system claims the common good depends entirely on the uncontrolled egoism of the individual, and especially on the prosperity of the corporation, hence freedom for corporations consists of freedom from responsibility and commitment to society. The maximization of profit must occur in the shortest time to ensure shareholder value. The primacy of politics over economics has been lost. Corporations, the largest institution of the 21st century, now dictate policies. Nation states have reverted to virtual feudalism. Neoliberal reform is decided above the heads of citizens and implemented behind their backs, appears as irrevocable reality. Once citizens become aware of consequences, those responsible for the changes are long gone and there is no way to rectify anything – protest and resistance are too late on the scene.
Why do people support an economic system that is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind? We live in a world of illusion and see the world not as it is but as we want it to be. The neoliberal worldview has been embedded in contemporary culture to such an extent and now is so pervasive that any countervailing evidence serves only to further convince people of its ultimate truth. Like a law of nature, people believe nothing can change without the market, there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism. To put it simply, cognitive dissonance is the brain’s inability to handle two conflicting realities, so it creates an alternate one, which often defies actual reality. Cognitive dissonance is often resolved in our short-term economic interests, ignoring competing concerns for long-term health and ethics. We must not give up the struggle for truth. This working-class mythology needs to change.
John Locke (1632–1704) effectively refuted the theory of divine right of kings propounding the idea the power to govern was obtained from the permission of the people as a social contract. In his view, the social contact only works because the people accept the laws and because they are for the public good. That means persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon an agreement among them to form the society in which they live. Locke supported economic inequality with his vigorous support of the right to property. There is a limitation or caveat in his statement – the individual is entitled to ownership, but only if this leaves “at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.” This was intended to ensure that the situation of others is not worsened by one’s appropriation of property.2
“We are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society,” Bernie Sanders claims. “Today, the most serious problem we face is the grotesque and growing level of wealth and income inequality. This is a profound moral issue, this is an economic issue and this is a political issue.”3 If one is going to change an economic system that is rigged for the very few while the majority continue to fall further behind, one must refuse the transparent falsehood that around us is the best form of government.
1 Mirowski, Philip. (2013) Never Let A Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown. VERSO: London p. 333-337.
2 De Fremery, Robert. Nozick and Locke’s Proviso. http://www.ditext.com/fremery/nozick.html
3 Prupis, Nadia. (10 Feb 2015) Bernie Sanders: Keeping US from Becoming Oligarchy Is ‘A Struggle We Must Win’. http://billmoyers.com/2015/02/10/bernie-sanders-keeping-us-becoming-oligarchy-struggle-must-win/