This video recording of Tony Benn talking about the entrenchment of neoliberalism in Great Britain should resonate loudly with the history of neoliberalism in the United States since the 1970s. (Thanks to our friends at Naked Capitalism.) The challenge we face is not abortion or gay marriage. Those are two moral issues masterfully manipulated by the powers to keep our society divided and distracted. If you don’t think this is true, then you have to ask yourself, why do we virtually ignore the commandments against coveting, stealing (corporations and businesses), and lying (our beloved politicians), in order to obsess about the commandments prohibiting murder and sexual infidelity? The challenge we face as a society is the age old struggle against power, concentrated in the hands of a few because of their wealth, whose self-understood mission is to control policies to enrich themselves rather than improve the lives of the workers who make their wealth possible. As Benn points out, the model of work as slavery (in all its forms, including oppressive wage exploitation) persisted throughout human history until the early nineteenth century. Just let that sink in for a moment. It wasn’t until the workers started banding together that their lot began to change. There have been slave rebellions throughout history. Always brutally and unflinchingly put down in order to preserve the “order” of society as it was envisioned by the wealthy few. Now, in our time, we face the same struggle. What the wealthy powerful don’t understand is that we don’t want to eliminate them. We only want what is fair. Fair. That’s another word that is manipulated in the social and political discourse. “Life isn’t fair,” is one of the primary neoliberal rules that’s intended to keep the masses on their heels and noses to the grindstone. But the concept of economic fairness is biblical, and it is as American as the constitution. Read it for yourself. It’s there. We’ve just been conditioned by the neoliberal rule to no longer see it and to no longer expect it. It’s time to come together and fight, not to eliminate the wealthy powerful, but to demand and take our own share of power through standing together (against all the wedge-issue prophecies of the neo-liberal god), and to demand and take our fair share of wealth in an economy that works for all.
Staff members of the International Monetary Fund organization just published a document for debate regarding the global scope of income inequality. And while I dislike the phrase “income inequality” and prefer the phrase “opportunity inequality”, the document makes important points about what is probably the most serious issue of our times. The disclaimer at the beginning of the document warns against associating the findings of this paper with the IMF and that the paper should be taken as the views of its authors. That’s fine. It presents a lot of facts for serious consideration. The one overarching fact is that paying people more in real wages, rather than exploiting the working poor and gutting the middle class, makes for an environment that allows the economy to work for everyone, not just a privileged few. It’s worth the read.
Watching this happen for the last thirty + years has been very, very painful, especially as it gradually has become clear what’s happened.
Sometimes I get the impression that free-market economists think of the idea of the “Free Market” as if it were an objective reality or an inescapable cosmic force, in much the same way that Hinduism or Buddhism thinks of karma. In Hinduism as in Buddhism, karma is an impersonal force, a cosmic reality, a universal law, like gravity. The karmic wheel turns as an unalterable, unstoppable grinding reality. It just is. There is no escaping the consequences of one’s actions because … karma. From a historian’s perspective, the karmic system developed in the East where there were and still are densely populated areas and a very strident competition for material resources. So the development of a system that regulated human moral behavior (how we treat each other when the population is dense and competition for resources is pronounced) became a necessity. For those who live in the East, historically, karma was the answer to this very difficult human problem. Note the moral component. Now, to press the analogy a bit, the Free Market has within it cosmic power to reward and punish certain choices or behaviors. If you act in such a way that compromises or fails to implement the Free-Market ideal in its purity, the Free Market will punish you … or at least, so the ideology goes. It is not a moral or immoral system; so the argument goes. It just is. There is no escaping it. And if we remove all artificially contrived restraints on the Free Market, then its truly benevolent nature will emerge to reward everyone … everyone, that is, who makes the right choices. The Free Market is an impersonal force. So the argument goes, and its rewards and punishments ultimately are those of one’s own making. A lot like karma. … The failure of this ideology is in its misunderstanding of human nature. How do you convince the greedy to stop being greedy? How do you stop the murderer from having murderous thoughts? How do you turn the tyrant from using violence to seize power? … So the idea of the free market is just that, an idea. It requires regulation to prevent human beings from exploiting other human beings of lesser status and power, because having had success in the market they want to use the results of their success to use people instead of providing opportunities for others to have the same success. And once those regulations are implemented by a society that has ordered its government for the protection and the prosperity of its people, then it is no longer a free market. It’s called living and working together.