Sunday, August 30, 2015
Where Is the Exit Door?
How long will Canada remain under the boot of market fundamentalism? This is the laissez faire face of modern neoliberalism that has taken hold throughout the developed world, Canada included.
It manifests itself most directly in free trade agreements and associated institutions such as the IMF, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank. Rarely seen is its presence in parallel or "deep government."
Neoliberalism is an ideology and, like most ideologies, it's anchored in both fact and plenty of belief. It's sort of faith-based. Its disciples believe neoliberalism is itself an ethic, in fact the best and preferred ethic to achieve solutions to our problems using the power of the marketplace. It holds that many of the functions ordinarily associated with government can be better undertaken through market forces.
Whether you realize it or not, we've been eating, sleeping and breathing this stuff for forty years. That's been long enough to realize that a lot of the promise of neoliberalism has been hogwash.
Neoliberalism often works at cross purposes to the public interest. Income stagnation is a function of market fundamentalism. Inequality of wealth, income and opportunity is likewise the outcome of adherence to market fundamentalism. It is the engine for transferring wealth from the many to the few and, as so plainly demonstrated by the United States, with that wholesale shift in economic power comes a commensurate shift in political power. This is the rise of illiberal democracy which, unfortunately, is not an outcome but merely an early onset symptom of a darker order to follow.
The problem with illiberal democracy is that many of us see it as genuine democracy. We don't see it for what it is, democracy with a potentially terminal disease. If we did we might be less tolerant of market fundamentalism, globalization and free trade that demand the surrendering of various incidents of our national sovereignty. We might reject the rise of state corporatism.
When your highest court holds that a corporation, itself a "legal fiction", is a person with political rights - you have a real problem. When that same top court holds that corporations cannot be restrained from dominating the political process with massive infusions of money for election advertising and campaign contributions - you have a real problem.
As Stiglitz powerfully chronicles in "The Price of Inequality" the great preponderance of inequality in the U.S. is neither merit- nor market-based. It is legislated, enacted by the people elected to represent the people but instead serving the contrary interests of the few and their corporations. This sort of inequality takes many forms - tax breaks and outright exemptions, subsidies, grants, deferrals and, quite regularly, the transfer of national assets such as water either for free or far below value. This is a "trickle up" economy where wealth finally crystallizes in the accounts of the investor or rentier class.
America has been our laboratory for this experiment in free market fundamentalism, neoliberalism. What are the observed results? A gutted middle class no longer empowered economically or politically; wage stagnation; inequality of all forms; the collapse of social mobility; the rise of the precariat; the formation of the narrowly held, corporate media cartel becoming an instrument of conditioning and distracting the populace; transactional governance (the "bought and paid for" Congress) and illiberal democracy; and the wholesale, unearned transfer of wealth from the many and from the state, to the few.
So, remind me why Canadians want to go down this road? Make no mistake, that is what we are doing.
We're trapped and so long as we submit to political leadership in thrall to market fundamentalism, we'll become ever more tightly trapped. Tom Mulcair caught hell for his support of both Thatcherism and the Canada-Europe free trade deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). One NDP apologist came to Mulcair's defence saying it was preferrable that we trade with Europe because of its social democracy. Oh I know - they're thinking of old Klaus with his alpine hat and lederhosen toiling away in the Black Forest banging out cuckoo clocks.
I guess that person didn't notice that Europe is on fire with discontent triggering uprisings from Athens to London. There's not a lot of social democracy on display in the U.K. and it's being ruthlessly suppressed in Greece with Spain, Portugal and Italy soon to follow. They didn't notice the rise of fascism in Britain, France, Germany and as far east as Hungary where it actually holds power. Neo-nationalism is on the march and it is very angry.
Is there no way out? Sure there is but we'll never find the exit door until we get up and look for it, something for which our political caste shows no appetite.
We need motivation to demand something better. That begins by recognizing everything we're giving up and what's being steadily drained from us in every context - economically, socially, politically, democratically - through free market fundamentalism. This is not theoretical. It is not hypothetical. It is real. We are living it and we all know that we're feeling it.
A good way to start is to read a few books. Here are some I would recommend.
David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism.
Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality.
Gar Alperovitz, What Then Must We Do?
Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything.
Thomas Prugh, Natural Capital and Human Economic Survival.
Paul Craig Roberts, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism.
Herman Daly, Beyond Growth.
Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.
Roubini and Mihm, Crisis Economics.
Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine.
If you read those ten books you'll see market fundamentalism in the raw and you'll grasp what will befall us, and especially our kids and grandkids, if we don't get out from under it.
It all begins by understanding what we're up against.
* I just checked and, with the exception of Natural Capital and Human Economic Survival (which I still think is an essential read) all of the titles listed above are available in e-book format from Amazon.