Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Unintended Consequences

Men and women of the libertarian/classical liberal mindset like Ron Paul, Lew Rockwell, and Tom Woods have a lot of good ideas and certainly mean well, but when society is organized around the principle of economic freedom alone without much thought for religion, trouble will eventually come round.

Journalist Claudio Gallo offers a look at some of that mischief in this article of his posted at the Russia Today web site.  It offers another opportunity for the West to reflect on the economic system it has set up and which it seeks to foist onto others.  An outtake:

Historically the market’s auto-regulation is known as the classical liberal theory of the invisible hand. Usually it is attributed to Adam Smith, although the Scottish economist used it very rarely and apparently with a more restricted meaning. Anyway, the invisible hand is now forming an integral part of the neoliberal theory, which considers any public intervention in the economy to be the work of the devil.

The magic power of the invisible hand needs a society of pure individuals to work: everyone pursuing their best interest, the healthy egoism of society’s atoms. Alchemically, this composite of egoisms will result in maximized benefit for the entire society. It is a machine that never stops, a “perpetuum mobile” [perpetual motion] in which unlimited production goes with unlimited desire. There are literally no limits.

Beyond Smith, the dark father of neoliberalism is the uber-modern Bernard Mandeville. In his Fable of the Bees he praised greed and every vice in general as the true driving force of economy. It was not the case that Hayek openly appreciated him. The frankness of Mandeville is not typical of liberalism, which from the beginning is inclined to present itself as beyond moral; even before publishing ‘The Wealth of Nations’, Smith was coping with the study of moral sentiments. As René Dumont puts it, the economic action in Smith is “escaping morality without adversing [sic] it.”

Jean Claude Michea has explained quite convincingly that this suspicion against morality is contained in liberalism’s DNA: it is a reaction to the bloody European religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. The memories of those horrible conflicts, full of religious and political passions and hates, forged the habit of liberal neutrality.

This is a very interesting passage because neoliberalism still presents itself under the ideology of neutrality: the ideology of the end of ideology. Not a political system among others, historically and socially determined, but a natural immemorial fact. The auto-regulating market becomes ideologically a kind of universal category that was present in human history from the beginning. Many critics, following mainly the anthropological studies of Marcel Mauss, have stressed that the more ancient form of economy was rather pivoted on the obligation to give, to receive and to reciprocate.

If the core of neoliberalism is a natural fact, as suggested by the ideology already embedded deep within our collective psyche, who can change it? Can you live without breathing, or stop the succession of days and nights? This is why Western democracy chooses among the many masks behind which is essentially the same liberal party. Change is not forbidden, change is impossible. Some consider this feature to be an insidious form of invisible totalitarianism.

At this point I am waiting for someone to start up the old litany about the difference between liberalism (the good one) and neoliberalism (the bad one), between political liberalism and economic liberalism, and between liberalism and liberism. From an analytical point of view many of these differences are real: the liberalism of Benjamin Constant was very different from the economic theory of Milton Friedman, and many battles for freedom in 19th century liberalism were highly commendable. But historically it seems that neoliberalism is no more than what liberalism has currently become. Do you remember the 1960-70 Marxists who said that the Soviet Union was not real communism? It was a kind of degeneration, of course, but where was true communism? Triumphant neoliberalism is liberalism as it reveals itself in history just as Soviet communism (or the even worst Asiatic versions) was communism inside history.

In neoliberal society there is no one who really manages political power. The economy regulates itself and government is organized by technicians who apply some rational choices. This is obviously an ideological façade. To maintain this façade, making people believe that it is reality, is exactly the political problem of neoliberalism. The main instrument to reach this goal is propaganda. Modern propaganda’s masterminds quickly rediscovered an old idea well-known by every ancient mystic: images are more powerful than words. Guy Debord genially recognized this process in his hermetic 1967 The Society of Spectacle.

In his book Hidden Persuaders, Packard denounced colored billboards and subliminal messages. As Noam Chomsky puts it about corporations: "The goal is to maximize profit and market share. And they also have a goal for their target, namely the population. They have to be turned into completely mindless consumers of goods that they do not want. (…) The ideal is to have individuals who are totally disassociated from one another.”

Source:  Global Totalitarianism: Change Not Forbidden, Change Is Impossible’,, posted and accessed 8 July 2014

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