The Neoliberal Road to Serfdom

The oldest refrain of the Right is that socialism leads to tyranny. Yet for the last four decades, it’s neoliberalism that’s been inching us closer to a police state.


People walk by a surveillance camera along a street in the Financial District on April 24, 2013 in New York City. Spencer Platt / Getty

The fear of socialism is mostly based on one idea: that the end of the road of bigger government is the totalitarian horror of the early twentieth century.

Sure, there are other objections, usually involving muttered words like “market” and “efficiency.” But for the fathers of neoliberalism like Friedrich Hayek, what it really came down to was the fear that every increase in the role of the state was just one more step toward the chimneys of Dachau: power concentrated among a know-it-all elite deaf to the problems facing its people; ever-present surveillance of the population, whether “suspect” or not; a vast, armed bureaucracy ready to stamp out dissent; countless bodies locked and tortured in prisons; and a state that asserts the power to treat its citizens as mere subjects while demanding secrecy and impunity for itself.

It wasn’t just Hayek, writing in the shadow of the Second World War, who obsessed over this fear. Right-wing, anti-government rhetoric in the Obama years was saturated with talk of Nazis, Hitler, and tyranny, until those same people embraced a wannabe authoritarian of their own in 2015. Speaking of whom, in the midst of one of his recent anti-socialist broadsides, Trump recently asserted that “socialism eventually must always give rise to tyranny.”

Halting this threat was supposedly the great promise of capitalism. You might have had the freedom to starve and die from preventable disease, but you at least had all the political freedoms denied by authoritarian states.

Reality has proven this to be nonsense. The gulag hasn’t come to Sweden or Norway just because their governments pay for people’s medical bills. Not to mention that the society envisioned by socialists devolves decision-making power, whether economic or political, to working people, rather than concentrating it in the state.

But put this to one side for the moment, because it’s now clear — more than seven decades after Hayek worried that “what was promised to us as the Road to Freedom was in fact the High Road to Servitude” — that it’s neoliberal capitalism that has put us on that high road. MORE

RELATED:

Capitalist Freedom Is a Farce

Milton Friedman was wrong. Capitalism doesn’t foster freedom — it produces autocratic workplaces and tyrannical billionaires.

 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right – it’s time for radical change, not more ‘meh’ politics

Centrism won’t fix wealth inequality or the climate crisis – so why are progressive politics condescendingly dismissed as unworkable?


US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Photograph: Sergio Flores/Reuters

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an equal-opportunity irritant. The newly elected congresswoman doesn’t just drive Republicans to distraction, she routinely riles establishment Democrats with her refusal to meekly toe the party line. Ocasio-Cortez, to the chagrin of many of her colleagues, has no interest in diluting her views and occupying a “safe” middle ground. If that wasn’t obvious enough already, AOC made her derision for political moderates extremely clear in a speech at South by Southwest on Saturday.

“Moderate is not a stance. It’s just an attitude towards life of, like, ‘meh,’” Ocasio-Cortez told a packed room at the tech-centric festival in Austin, Texas. “We’ve become so cynical, that we view … cynicism as an intellectually superior attitude, and we view ambition as youthful naivety when … the greatest things we have ever accomplished as a society have been ambitious acts of vision. The ‘meh’ is worshipped now. For what?”

On both sides of the Atlantic, the “meh” is worshipped while progressive politics are condescendingly dismissed as unworkable. In Britain, people see Corbynism as an existential threat to Labour; in America, people see the likes of Bernie Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez as an existential threat to the Democratic party. More than ever, it would seem that the greatest enemy of the left isn’t the right, but the centre. MORE

Ocasio-Cortez Blasts Capitalism as an ‘Irredeemable’ System

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on March 9
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on March 9 Photographer: Callaghan O’Hare/Bloomberg

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose sudden rise to prominence has made her a target of Republicans and a sometime irritant to her party’s leaders, called capitalism an “irredeemable” system that is to blame for income inequality.

The 29-year-old, first-term U.S. House member from New York and self-described democratic socialist addressed an enthusiastic crowd Saturday at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, about issues that resonate with her fellow millennials, from universal healthcare to combating climate change.

She directed some of her sharpest comments at an economic system that she said values profit over people

“Capitalism is an ideology of capital –- the most important thing is the concentration of capital and to seek and maximize profit,” Ocasio-Cortez said. And that comes at any cost to people and to the environment, she said, “so to me capitalism is irredeemable.”

Though she said she doesn’t think all parts of capitalism should be abandoned, “we’re reckoning with the consequences of putting profit above everything else in society. And what that means is people can’t afford to live. For me, it’s a question of priorities and right now I don’t think our model is sustainable.”

Instead of conservative politicians scaring people that socialism means the government is going to take over their business, “we should be scared right now because corporations have taken over our government,” she said  SOURCE

An Illinois bill leans into the most contentious part of the Green New Deal

Illinois is weighing a 100 percent renewable energy bill that includes jobs, equity, and social justice.


Wind turbines tower over crops near Dwight, Illinois. The state is weighing a bill to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Scott Olson/Getty Images

A recurring criticism of the Green New Deal resolution introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is that it has too much social justice baggage: Why does a statement of goals to limit climate change and decarbonize the economy devote so much ink to affordable housing, universal health care, and jobs for everyone?

“They are right that the entire energy sector must be reshaped,” the Washington Post editorial board wrote in a sharp appraisal. “But the goal is so fundamental that policymakers should focus above all else on quickly and efficiently decarbonizing. They should not muddle this aspiration with other social policy, such as creating a federal jobs guarantee, no matter how desirable that policy might be.”

Yet the reason the Green New Deal does include social programs is that, as Vox’s David Roberts put it, “It is not merely a way to reduce emissions, but also to ameliorate the other symptoms and dysfunctions of a late capitalist economy: growing inequality and concentration of power at the top.”

And given that decarbonizing the economy would mean jettisoning fossil fuel jobs, the resolution asserts that the transition needs to happen in a just way, mindful of the needs of “vulnerable, frontline, and deindustrialized communities.” MORE

A LAKOTA HISTORIAN ON WHAT CLIMATE ORGANIZERS CAN LEARN FROM TWO CENTURIES OF INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE

CANNON BALL, ND - DECEMBER 5: On the day of a government order to vacate the area, hundreds of United States military veterans vow to defend the Standing Rock protest camp and march through a winter blizzard to the scene of recent clashes with state police and the national guard just outside of the Lakota Sioux reservation of Standing Rock, North Dakota, December 5, 2016. Over two hundred tribes, joined by environmental activists and hundreds of United States military veterans, camp and demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which plans to be built under the Missouri River adjacent to the reservation. The gathering has been the largest meeting of Native Americans since the Little Bighorn camp in 1876. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Native American tribes, environmental activists, and military veterans at a protest encampment near Standing Rock, N.D., on Dec. 5, 2016. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Our History Is the Future,” by Nick Estes, traces Indigenous resistance from the Lakota people’s attempt to deny Lewis and Clark passage down the Missouri River in 1804, to the Red Power movement’s demands for treaty enforcement in the 1960s, to today’s Indigenous-led fights against fossil fuel projects. Writing about the massacre at Wounded Knee, where 300 Indigenous men, women, and children were murdered by U.S. soldiers in 1890, Estes highlights the revolutionary premise of the nonviolent Ghost Dance movement the victims followed. With a long tradition of daring attempts at decolonization, Estes argues, Indigenous people represent a powerful challenge to the profit-driven forces that threaten continued life on the planet.

NICK ESTES: I look at the Ghost Dance prophecy, which was an anticolonial uprising among particularly Lakota and Dakota people on the northern Plains in the late 19th century, but also a widespread spiritual movement that went up the west coast of Canada and down to parts of what is today Mexico. If they were completely harmless, then the United States wouldn’t have deployed its army against starving, horseless people at Wounded Knee. The reason it represented such a threat was not because Lakota and Dakota Ghost Dancers were going around and murdering white settlers — it was because it was a vision of the future.

9781786636720-61081aab1105a4a6bda6757f704016e5-1-NODAPL-1551723994When you subjugate a people, you not only take their land and their language, their identity, and their sense of self — you also take away any notion of a future. The reason I chose this name is because in this particular era of neoliberal capitalism, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. The argument I’m making is that within our own traditions of Indigenous resistance, we have always been a future-oriented people, whether it was taking up arms against the United States government, whether it was taking ceremonies underground into clandestine spaces, whether it was learning the enemy’s language. This pushes back against the dominant narrative that Indigenous people are a dying, diminishing race desperately holding on to the last vestiges of their culture or their land base. If that were the case, then I don’t think we would have an uprising such as Standing Rock or, today, Line 3 or Bayou Bridge, or the immense amount of mobilization around murdered and missing Indigenous women. MORE

Capitalism worst possible economic system for a planet ravaged by climate change

Photo: Rachel Docherty/Flickr
Photo: Rachel Docherty/Flickr

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.  –Oliver Goldsmith

Twenty years ago, I wrote an op-ed in which I described free-market capitalism as “the most unjust and barbaric economic system ever devised, and one that now oppresses and abuses most of the world’s people.” I was scorned and vilified by neoliberal pundits, and even chided by some progressives who thought that calling the dominant economic system “barbaric” was going too far.

This is how I responded to my critics at that time:

Look up the word “barbaric” in your dictionary, and you’ll find several synonyms, including brutal, cruel, and savage. They all apply to the current capitalist system — and even more so to its leaders. These suave chief executives don’t look or act like Attila the Hun. They dress smartly, talk smoothly, and their table manners are impeccable. But strip away the glossy veneer, and you find the ruthless autocrats beneath the surface.

These modern barbarian chieftains don’t personally lead their hordes to invade other countries. They don’t physically destroy cultures, openly loot and pillage cities, or brutalize their citizens. But they engage in the equivalent of all these barbaric activities from the seclusion of their boardrooms, sometimes with just a phone call or a tap on a computer key. MORE

Green New Deal: Saving America or turning it socialist?

What’s the best path to move the United States toward an emissions-free future? For most voters, the answer has as much to do with their economic worldview as their ideas about the environment.

Given its sweep, it’s not surprising that critics are blasting the plan as “socialist.” The label may not be fair in a literal sense, but it points to a vital question of how to best care for both the planet and its people at a time when climate change has rising urgency. Is the answer more capitalism or less? 

The plan calls for a vast remaking of the US economy. In just 10 years, it envisions a phaseout of all greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Ditto for for cars on the road. Meanwhile, massive spending on high-speed rail systems would coax long-distance travelers off airplanes and onto trains.

Oh, and while all that is slashing greenhouse gas emissions to zero, this legislation would also seek to fix a host of social ills, with the promise of things like jobs and health care for all. Absent from the legislation are references to things like incentives, markets, or private-sector innovation.

Welcome to the Green New Deal, which depending on your view looks like either the salvation or bane of the US economy.

Given its sweep, it’s not surprising that critics are blasting the plan as “socialist.” The label may not be fair in a literal sense, but it points to a vital question of how to best care for both the planet and its people at a time when climate change has rising urgency. Is the answer more capitalism or less?

Here’s What a Green New Deal Looks Like in Practice


JARED RODRIGUEZ / TRUTHOUT, TOKARCHUK ANDRII / SHUTTERSTOCK

With the climate change challenge growing more acute with every passing year, the need for the adoption of a new political economy that would tackle effectively both the environmental and the egalitarian concerns of progressive people worldwide grows exponentially. Yet, there is still a lot of disagreement on the left as to the nature of the corresponding political economy model. One segment of the left calls for the complete overthrow of capitalism as a means of dealing with climate change and the growing levels of economic inequality in the era of global neoliberalism, while another one argues against growth in general.

In the interview below, Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, explains some issues raised by each of these positions, and how to move toward solutions grounded in a fuller understanding of economic development. MORE