Chris Hedges writes of how neoliberalism revived class power in America.
Neoliberalism as economic theory was always an absurdity. It had as much validity as past ruling ideologies such as the divine right of kings and fascism’s belief in the Übermensch. None of its vaunted promises were even remotely possible. Concentrating wealth in the hands of a global oligarchic elite—eight families now hold as much wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population—while demolishing government controls and regulations always creates massive income inequality and monopoly power, fuels political extremism and destroys democracy. You do not need to slog through the 577 pages of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” to figure this out. But economic rationality was never the point. The point was the restoration of class power.
...“It’s important to recognize the class origins of this project, which occurred in the 1970s when the capitalist class was in a great deal of difficulty, workers were well organized and were beginning to push back,” said David Harvey, the author of “A Brief History of Neoliberalism,” when we spoke in New York. “Like any ruling class, they needed ruling ideas. So, the ruling ideas were that freedom of the market, privatization, entrepreneurialism of the self, individual liberty and all the rest of it should be the ruling ideas of a new social order, and that was the order that got implemented in the 1980s and 1990s.”
“As a political project, it was very savvy,” he said. “It got a great deal of popular consent because it was talking about individual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice. When they talked about freedom, it was freedom of the market. The neoliberal project said to the ’68 generation, ‘OK, you want liberty and freedom? That’s what the student movement was about. We’re going to give it to you, but it’s going to be freedom of the market. The other thing you’re after is social justice—forget it. So, we’ll give you individual liberty, but you forget the social justice. Don’t organize.’ The attempt was to dismantle those institutions, which were those collective institutions of the working class, particularly the unions and bit by bit those political parties that stood for some sort of concern for the well-being of the masses.”
...Neoliberalism generates little wealth. Rather, it redistributes it upward into the hands of the ruling elites. Harvey calls this “accumulation by dispossession.”
“The main argument of accumulation by dispossession rests on the idea that when people run out of the capacity to make things or provide services, they set up a system that extracts wealth from other people,” Harvey said. “That extraction then becomes the center of their activities. One of the ways in which that extraction can occur is by creating new commodity markets where there were none before. For instance, when I was younger, higher education in Europe was essentially a public good. Increasingly [this and other services] have become a private activity. Health service. Many of these areas which you would consider not to be commodities in the ordinary sense become commodities. Housing for the lower-income population was often seen as a social obligation. Now everything has to go through the market. You impose a market logic on areas that shouldn’t be open to market.”
...Under neoliberalism, the process of “accumulation by dispossession” is accompanied by financialization.
“Deregulation allowed the financial system to become one of the main centers of redistributive activity through speculation, predation, fraud, and thievery,” Harvey writes in his book, perhaps the best and most concise account of the history of neoliberalism. “Stock promotions, ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset stripping through mergers and acquisitions, the promotion of levels of debt incumbency that reduce whole populations even in the advanced capitalist countries to debt peonage. To say nothing of corporate fraud, dispossession of assets, the raiding of pension funds, their decimation by stock, and corporate collapses by credit and stock manipulations, all of these became central features of the capitalist financial system.”
Neoliberalism, wielding tremendous financial power, is able to manufacture economic crises to depress the value of assets and then seize them.
...Neoliberalism transforms freedom for the many into freedom for the few. Its logical result is neofascism. Neofascism abolishes civil liberties in the name of national security and brands whole groups as traitors and enemies of the people. It is the militarized instrument used by the ruling elites to maintain control, divide and tear apart the society and further accelerate pillage and social inequality. The ruling ideology, no longer credible, is replaced with the jackboot.