Post 1970's abandonment of the Bretton Woods system there came about a fantastic chain of events that threw the entire world on the fast track to destruction. Neoliberalism had been incubating at the University of Chicago for some years, but they were suddenly tapped to provide answers for where a sudden glut of gulf oil revenue should go. Their answer: To The Third World! After all, Mr. Woods was no longer around to lend a helping hand, the Soviet Union was lolling around like fat idiots getting ready to melt, and there's no better time like the present to introduce finance into every market available.
The IMF and World Bank started to funnel this incredible amount of money through loans to third world economies floundering during the 70's stagflation crisis. Jamaicans could suddenly vaccinate their children, Mexicans could build roads, etc! How wonderful! Then came the Volcker shock, where the Federal Reserve suddenly decided to jack interest rates on these loans from 4% on avg to 20, 30, 40% and more! Broke and unable to pay their loans, they were refinanced and forced into adopting strict structural adjustment policies (SAP). They were forced to bring down trade barriers, gut national industries overnight, devalue currency, and scale back social spending. They were also required to privatize a large portion of any existing national industries and pushed to place their natural resources on the market.
The return on this initial investment was so incredible that the Chicago Boys were tapped again to start mopping up the cobwebs of Keynesian economics in the West. Ronald Reagan never read a book in his life, but Margaret Thatcher read some Hayak and exclaimed: "This is what we believe!" Cue the 80's, where some people made a lot of money and the rest were thrown out in the cold... literally. Social programs in the USA and UK were sliced up and thrown to the market. This was more dramatic in the USA than in the UK of course, but so long as a few extra nickles fell into the right pockets, nobody much seemed to mind the End of Public Housing and a bunch of homeless vets on the streets.
The market made sense! The more the system untethered the market, the richer some people got. The more they swept aside barriers from it running rampant through each and every corner of the earth, the more yachts someone could buy. Money poured into telecom and IT, enabling financial trading on a computerized scale not seen before in the history of the stock market. The faster everything went, the faster people got rich. Things kept speeding up and up and up until the everyman couldn't quite keep up on what was going on...
With this financialization going into overdrive, concepts not previously commodified were suddenly for sale. Homes turned into investments, television became the new center of the family, and suddenly everything was made overseas. Banks and governments continued to lend to the third world, twisting their arms into sweatshops and mining camps. Consumerism became the centerpiece of citizenship and you, Yes You, were suddenly the center of the universe.
After all, Neoliberalism assumes that society is simply made up of individuals, and that these individuals participate in society by buying things. This individualization of humankind created not only a vacuous state of things with regards to consumerism, but also isolated people to an astounding degree. Anthropology of the West changed overnight and we were watching our traditional communities - even the nuclear family - eroded. Good! screeched the activist. It was patriarchal anyway! Yet without these traditional support networks, people were suddenly twisting in the wind spiritually, reaching out for something to anchor them to society. No worries, we can sell you a pair of Nikes for $80.
Yet the problem with Neoliberalism is that it is never what it claims to be. The individual is enshrined as his rights are stripped. A positive concept of rights - the Right to housing, the Right to medical care - became stripped to Hayak's NEGATIVES: the Right to not be taxed! The Right to not be told what to do! The Right to your private property! As for those toiling in sweatshops, those individuals with bloody fingers from the sewing machines, well... without cash in the pocket they were not consumers and thus not full citizens of this new global society. Neoliberalism swims with lies.. there is emphasis on minimizing the role of the state, that is, when the state owes you something. Yet the state is just as strong as ever when it comes to enforcing economic policy at home and abroad. The only problem with regards to the state is: what flag is it flying?
In April 2011, the Chinese government prohibited on TV and films
and in novels all stories that contain alternate reality or time travel. This is a good sign for China. It means that people still dream about alternatives, so you have to prohibit this dream. Here we don’t think of prohibition. Because the ruling system has even suppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism. So what are we doing here?
Let me tell you a wonderful old joke from communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors. So he told his friends: Let’s establish a code. If the letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I said. If it is written in red ink, it is false. After a month his friends get a first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theaters show good films from the West. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink. This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink. The language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom, war and terrorism, and so on falsifies freedom.
Now we are told not to bother the market.. do not upset the market... We find ourselves in a new era of the Golden Calf. Priests get on television and tell us so and so will upset things very much, even the mention of certain ideas could very well throw the whole world into chaos! We cannot ask this false idol for anything - it only takes. With this incredible redistribution, seemingly overnight, we have not only lost our nationalities, our families, our religion, but also our democracy. Nothing must constrain or block the market, they told us in the 80's, but suddenly anything good for the rest of us is constraining and blocking the market. Even our idea of control economy has been hijacked, commodified, and now lives in service to the market. Capitalism in overdrive. Consume and destroy.
"It's the end of the world as we know it." - REM
So as we suck dry the resources in the ground just to turn around and throw it back in the ocean, rivers, streams, and groundwater, we will all develop cholera and die. As the market staggers to its greatest peaks it will predictably crash in a major way. Wars will break out over resources... not so we can turn them into gas guzzlers on the highway, but just to feed our populations.
The biggest achievement of Neoliberalism, of course, is that it was fostered and emerged from the empty spaces left in Marxist and Institutionalist thought. The Left could not fix everything, so this monster grew in the spaces untouched, and, knowing the Left's weaknesses, slew the remaining options with speed and ease. Now that it is all ground underfoot, these skeletal tools of no use anyway, what is the answer? In this world of cynicism, can the protests minus the radicals get us anywhere? When there are only moderates left to negotiate, the parties can only inch closer and closer towards the edge of the cliff. I ask you: what is to be done?