Posted by: Tony Carson | 29 August, 2007

Neoliberalism and the power elite

From How Did We Get Into This Neoliberal Mess? at Huffington Post

For the first time, the United Kingdom’s consumer debt now exceeds our gross national product: a new report shows that we owe £1.35 trillion(1). Inspectors in the United States have discovered that 77,000 road bridges are in the same perilous state as the one which collapsed into the Mississippi(2). Two years after Hurricane Katrina struck, 120,000 people from New Orleans are still living in trailer homes and temporary lodgings(3). As runaway climate change approaches, governments refuse to take the necessary action. Booming inequality threatens to create the most divided societies the world has seen since before the first world war. Now a financial crisis caused by unregulated lending could turf hundreds of thousands out of their homes and trigger a cascade of economic troubles.

These problems appear unrelated, but they all have something in common. They arise in large part from a meeting that took place 60 years ago in a Swiss spa resort. It laid the foundations for a philosophy of government that is responsible for many, perhaps most, of our contemporary crises.

When the Mont Pelerin Society first met, in 1947, its political project did not have a name. But it knew where it was going. The society’s founder, Friedrich von Hayek, remarked that the battle for ideas would take a least a generation to win, but he knew that his intellectual army would attract powerful backers. Its philosophy, which later came to be known as neoliberalism, accorded with the interests of the ultra-rich, so the ultra-rich would promote it.

Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by private enterprise, which will be prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services. By this means, enterprise is liberated, rational decisions are made and citizens are freed from the dehumanising hand of the state.

But the most powerful promoter of this programme was the media. Most of it is owned by multi-millionaires who use it to project the ideas that support their interests. Those which threaten their plans are either ignored or ridiculed. It is through the newspapers and television channels that the socially destructive ideas of a small group of extremists have come to look like common sense.

His conclusion:

Neoliberalism, if unchecked, will catalyse crisis after crisis, all of which can be solved only by the means it forbids: greater intervention on the part of the state. In confronting it, we must recognise that we will never be able to mobilise the resources its exponents have been given. But as the disasters they have caused develop, the public will need ever less persuading that it has been misled.

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