Fear is what you feel when you face something that is unknown or a perceived threat to you. But fear goes beyond that. Fear is also related to the need to understand, in that if you don’t understand why something is going on, it is instinctive to fear it. Today we are vulnerable to the politics of fear. The politics of fear is when leaders use fear as a driving or motivating factor for the people, to get them to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. It’s banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies. Trickle-down economics has 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.
By linking the welfare of working-class Americans directly to the prosperity of the rich, the neoliberals protect the insulated interests of corporations and the wealthy without the fear of backlash. As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who fiercely opposed the French Revolution wrote, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Neoliberal capitalism has nothing to do with democracy as justice is now linked to a market logic that divorces itself from social cost. To ensure the policy of minimal taxes and regulations remains unchanged, the plutocrats control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism they perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear.
As Friedrich Hayek put it, “Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another.” But, he added, “if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy.” Hayek proposes laws are to protect the liberty of the individual knowing full well it created a system with built-in inequality. To assuage this deficit Milton Friedman developed the theory of trickle-down economics – claiming benefits for the wealthy like tax cuts on business, high income earners, capital gains and dividends helps people by the trickle-down effect in which economic growth flows from the top to the bottom, indirectly benefiting those who do not benefit directly from the policy changes. Neoliberalism has no vision of the Good Society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems.
Its creators never believed trickle-down economics worked – it was an ideology that was created to unite the right. Today economic elites control corporate and media interests who continue to hollow out democratic principles to further their goals. This new world-totalitarianism is a panoptical world constructed on the basis of fear and authority. Governing occurs by providing individuals with choices and holding them accountable for the choices they make. Trickle-down economics evolved into neoliberalism. Neoliberalism creates insecurity through the use of indicators and measures to assess the performance of an individual. The Occupy Wall Street protest following the 2008 recession outlined how neoliberal ideology supports a system that allows control of information and the redistribution of wealth upwards. Joseph Stiglitz observes the consensus surrounding neoliberal economic thought has come to an end – that an unregulated market is the best way to increase economic growth has now been pretty much disproved.
While Republicans perpetually talk about getting tough on crime, they actually need it to get and stay in power. Pitting the lower middle class and poor against the really poor, who are simultaneously seen as responsible for and the victims of crime, is the way the economic elite divert attention away from the fact that under Republicans, there is less support for unemployment, income and social inequality – all of which lead to crime. Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. In the 21st century the myth of the market hinges on the illusion of a supposedly natural order in the economic realm. Neoliberalism constructed a system that not only benefits the upper class but also effectively justifies this outcome – the political and social domination of the upper class are presented as normal outcomes of the functioning of the free market.
It has been argued that reality is not an absolute, that each individual has his own perception of reality. Reality is the state of things, as they actually exist, rather than as they may appear or might be imagined. There is a tension between reality and truth. Reality is a construct of beliefs about the world we hold as true. Truth in itself has nothing to do with reality, applied to beliefs and utterances, however, it contributes to the constitution or maintenance of a reality. The reality is the neoliberal model can only deliver: austerity, stagnation, and increased economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society. Neoliberalism is a consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. When only a fraction of society holds the power to define what is real and what is not real, the rest of us are left living by their rules.
Following the economic debacle of 2008, supporters of trickle-down economics now peddle fear of increased taxes or regulation as toxic to this economic system. They introduce fear tactics, and then check to see if it resonates with voters. The fossil fuel industry in the US peddles fear of a weakening economy if environment regulations and responsibility are enforced. The plutocrats manipulate the media and control the politicians (in the present) to ensure messaging that creates fear of change to such ideas as turning to a system with emphasis on stability, social conscience and regulation. While the politicians remain silent on a solution, the corporations work overtime through proxies to defend trickle-down economics, claiming that without minimal government and less regulations, people should fear the ability of the system to create jobs and expand the economy. It falls to the general public to be the agents of change.
As a citizen you may become more compliant, more willing to surrender your rights for vague promises of safety. As an employee you are less demanding, less willing to take risks. The problem is that the lens of fear distorts what you see. It focuses primarily on the negative, exaggerates the potentially threatening, filters out alternative views, and causes you to compromise your core values out of the urgent need to survive. Another notable difference today is that many people feel that they may have to confront threats on their own. These days, the measurable loss of faith in government combined with the difficulty of fighting terrorism has given the public less confidence that they will be kept safe. The narrative of fear presents a vision of a shrinking future, not a better one. We need to shift to a generative democracy of radical engagement in the design, development and implementation of public policy.
The American Dream that any American can reach economic stability through hard work, and that children will have a higher standard of living than their parents, is no longer true. With respect to trickle-down economics, the effects of neoliberal capitalism with the 2008 financial crisis is the greatest broken promise (or lie) of our lifetime. 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 disillusioned. With the disappearance of good paying jobs as manufacturing continue to be outsourced to lower costs, legislators in Washington remained gridlocked and unable to introduce new policies. Politicians need to understand we need significant change – the role of the state needs to be transformed from that of enabler of market-based development to that of partner in the growth of the reciprocity and commons-based social economy.1
We realize we have become disillusioned not because our expectations failed, but because they were false. What will drive change is a doctrine of skepticism coupled with questioning that refutes the ideology, sacred values and principles that maintain neoliberal ideology along with the supporting social and economic institutions based on false beliefs. We need a commons-based civil society to challenge the narrow thinking of today’s politicians; the courage to think differently, speak loudly, and challenge directly the systems, which we know to be unjust. We must promote new values for society to create the necessary change in culture to address the increasing economic inequality. In this manner new processes appear to replace the old. With enough people marching in a new direction of more accountability, the politicians will adapt in order to position themselves to the front of the crowd so they can assure us they are in control.
1 Jonathan Dawson (12 March 2015) A wave of disruption is sweeping in to challenge neoliberalism. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/12/disruption-challenge-neoliberalism-commons-political-system