Like a Wasting Disease, Neoliberals, Libertarians & the Right are Eating Away Society’s “Connective Tissue” – Part 1

By Michael Hoexter

In an industrial or post-industrial society, a civilization with a complex division of labor dispersed throughout a network of metropolitan regions connected with each other and with smaller cities and rural areas, a class of connecting goods and services is required to keep the society and economy cohesive and functioning.  Unlike the goods bought and sold on markets, these mediating or connecting goods are not themselves often objects of desire for purchase by those who use or otherwise benefit from them. In the hypotheses of social theorists and politicians influenced by neoclassical economic ideals, these goods, they think, ought to be delivered via markets and people ought to pay directly for them in market-like cash transactions. As it has turned out in reality, without a social and political commitment and social pressure to fund these goods and services, individuals in isolation and businesses as a group tend to want to “free ride” and not pay for connective goods and services that are usually the frame but not the focus of everyday consciousness in a modern society. Despite the lack of consistent private markets for most connective goods and services, these “in-between” goods and services are vital and fundamental to the existence and maintenance of something like a civilization, a livable complex society with a strong economy.   

As it turns out, government is by far the largest supplier and/or funder of these goods and services, functions that make it possible for large-scale local, regional and national communities to come into existence in the first place; they enable a post-tribal society, as noted above, a civilization and a complex economy.  While lately the growth and successes of various social entrepreneurs and voluntary non-profit leaders have been celebrated, the work of these voluntary groups is tied to the changeable desires and attentional economy of private citizens and investors to invent and donate to these ventures:  less glamorous mediating functions still fall through the cracks in societies increasingly starved of the public goods and public financing provided by government.  Social entrepreneurs and voluntary non-profits are for the most part focused on the more telegenic, “marketable” connective services from which they can raise funds from philanthropies or a newer class of social investors/philanthropists rather than the mundane connective services provided by government.  If these services were funded largely or entirely by philanthropies or social venture capitalists, we would find ourselves completely in a neo-feudal order, where public services would be directly subject to the whims and interests of a wealthy elite.  A neofeudal outcome is unfortunately not an impossibility given the current state of affairs in our society.

Most obvious among these connective functions, various social assets are built and/or maintained by government that form physical connections between the components of the society and enable people to physically interact with each other and come into possession of or experience goods and services they desire.   Sometimes this means creating or maintaining “central places”, like town squares, central marketplaces, parks or community centers in cities, though some of these central hubs are now formed by privately developed and owned shopping malls.  As societies expand their reach and engage in trade with distant trading partners, infrastructure like roads and bridges are required, and more recently in many countries there is an assumption that an adequate public transportation system is necessary that is affordable for a majority of the people.

If such connections were owned and controlled entirely by profit-minded corporations as has been flirted with over the past few decades, they could easily strangle the economy via the exertion of monopoly power and pricing.  The resulting “tollbooth economy” would be a neofeudal outcome, with owners of infrastructure exacting tolls on commerce and on society as a whole as did the feudal lords a millennium ago.  This is why government has been, in the successful mixed economy model that emerged during the 20th Century, the most common supplier, owner and operator of critical portions of the society’s infrastructure, the “in-between” places that connect people’s and corporations’ private properties.  The strong mixed economy model, typified by the European social democracies, Australia, the mid-20th Century US, and Canada, with a government regulating the private sector and providing many vital services, is actually the only successful model of a complex industrial or post-industrial society and economy.  Departures from a strong mixed-economy model are in the developed world necessarily speculative social experiments on a grand scale, even though these departures from what has worked in the past are almost never announced as such.

The still much-celebrated market forces in complex societies also happen to produce interpersonal relationships with a degree of anonymity which are characteristically “modern” and therefore removed from some of the dependencies and mutual aid associated with village and extended family life. Market relationships are necessarily contingent on variable prices and, consequently, the time-bound desires of the buyer for the product or service on offer are by definition inconstant:  the potential buyer moves on to another potential seller if they see no prospect of satisfying their wishes at the desired price point with the first potential seller.  When the service offered for sale is the labor of an individual, that individual must often move to find employment or take advantage of the potential for better employment, often removing themselves physically from the traditional support network in which they grew up.  Because of the anomie and physical displacement produced by market relationships, we have seen a trend toward the growth of bureaucracies and civil servants, who are funded to deliver various connective services which are viewed by most people who use them as either a “good” or a “necessary evil” to supplement the functions of families and spontaneously-arising communities and relationships.

The current struggle in the US over benefit levels and accounting mechanisms of the Social Security retirement income system is just one poignant and central example of the role of government in providing a connective service (as well as provide adequate liquidity in demand-starved social sectors) in a market economy.  A market economy tends to attenuate the support networks of the extended family for many of those who sell their labor for a living as well as for small business owners that do not earn enough income from their property or business to employ or support their extended family via the family business.  The labor market in an advanced or internationalized market economy requires individuals to be more mobile than the physical support networks that many families can provide.   Younger people move away from their families in search of opportunity or to increase personal fulfillment, sometimes across national boundaries.

In this context, older people into their years of infirmity must often pay for goods and services which previously were supplied by younger relatives or not supplied at all, the latter result leading to “Dickensian” levels of abject misery and squalor.  A public elder pension system is an accommodation to a number of realities related to the lifetime earnings and saving potential of the average worker as well as the increased real demand for monetary income in a context where older people must buy goods and services rather than live entirely within the non-monetary reciprocity network of an extended family.  One cannot have a market economy without labor mobility and attenuated extended family networks; ultimately a secure elder pension system that covers the basic expenses of the old is a compassionate, civilized solution that does not rely upon extraordinary good fortune, wealth, or familial cohesion in every family.

Inspired by the schematic social and economic theory of neoclassical economics laced with “Austrian” economics, the neoliberal political trend of the last 40 years has idealized the market and demonized government leading now during the current post-financial crisis austerity, to a hollowing out of government’s role in society and the economy.  Attacking the connecting functions of government in society both through propaganda and also through changes in government policy, neoliberals in combination with their more idealistic libertarian faction have acted as agents of a chronic “wasting disease” that “eats” the connective functions of government and society more generally.  We are now seeing the results of these attacks, as physical and social infrastructure crumbles under the false pretense that there are not enough financial resources to bring to bear on these vital social needs. 

There is. in the current organized political attack upon the costs of supplying these connective goods and services, the assumption of an extraordinary social order, a utopia, which is often not openly and frankly discussed by its advocates or, for that matter, its critics.  This fantasied social order would have the dynamism and mobility of a market economy with the traditional family cohesion of a tribal society, a physical impossibility and an historical novelty.

Empathy and Human Solidarity 

The connectivity offered by government-provided or –funded goods and services is not just, as described above, an economic function alone but an outgrowth of human sociality, in which both cooperation and competition are necessary components. Conventional neoclassical economic theory assumes away human sociality and cooperation, seeing them, if recognized at all, as encrustations upon a fundamentally isolated and competitive being, upon which all explanations of human social and economic phenomena must be based or refer back to.

Against the assumptions of neoclassical, mainstream economics, the human capacity for empathy and the resulting social solidarity that comes from this capacity are fundamental to understanding the complex societies and economies that we build.  Government’s contribution to the economy is not just the imposition of laws from above upon a supposed unruly and asocial individual nature but also the expression of human bonds and connectivity, transformed for an age of more impersonal interaction and a society that necessarily involves relationships between people who do not know each other personally. In precincts of the Left and the Right, some view government as necessarily always an imposition on some organic pre-governmental community, which suggests that government’s functions are always optional or the pure expression of the will of rulers and not commingled with the desires of the ruled.  Contrary to anarchistic strains in contemporary thinking on the Left and Right, the historical record does not show large scale civilizations without some form of governmental structures, even if very few of these civilizations look utopian or ideal.

Contemporary political disputes about the nature of government and its role in the economy can, in part, be boiled down to whether the parties involved believe that empathy is at all important to the functioning of society and, for that matter, is even worthy of attention.  The traditional Right sees empathy, except in certain extraordinary circumstances, as a sign of weakness or as a phenomenon of the “private sphere”, traditionally organized around the household and considered to be “feminized”, linked to the (misogynistic) notion of the feminine as being inferior in value to the masculine. Movements identified with the Left have tended to fight for the role of a generalized empathy with basic human needs and human solidarity within the public sphere, focusing for the most part on equal rights and “treating others as you would want to be treated”.   By contrast, the Right has often celebrated cruelty as a sign of toughness or loyalty to a cause, making room for empathy only in the context of mystical bonding rituals between for the most part men or between a leader and his followers.

Despite an attractive set of ideals, a problem for the Left in claiming virtue as opposed to the anti-empathic, cruelty-obsessed Right has been that there have been here some disastrous perversions of its ideals over the years particularly in societies where left revolutionaries have overthrown a corrupt ancien regime.  The lack of an effective theory of how government works in the Left’s theoretical toolbox (and the Right has no answers here either) has contributed to among other things the Terror after the French Revolution as well as the failures of many Communist regimes that emerged in the 20th Century to forge a “good society” which had political and economic legitimacy among the governed.  The Right has held up the repressive and occasionally disastrous political outcomes of some Left-identified revolutions as a “Medusa’s head” to scare politicians and the public from ever again imagining that empathy and human solidarity should be values in the public sphere.  The Right has tended to glamorize old aristocratic and oligarchic regimes as against the efforts of the Left in both its reformist and revolutionary tendencies to change society for the better; the message of the Right: “better leave well enough alone”.

While in Western democracies, the Left oriented towards reform has had little to do with the formation of totalitarian regimes under Communism, the contemporary Left has not decisively countered this fear-mongering with a new but realistic vision of how a just society and government would function. This has led to 40 years of various efforts to form a “Third Way” or post-partisan theory of governance and regulation of the economy that supposedly overcomes the Left-Right division.  The “third way” tactic has mostly involved a triangulation or “mix and match” intellectual strategy of increasingly mindless “centrism”.

The Hidden Utopia of Neoliberalism

In the late 1970’s, there emerged a right-wing reaction to the generally left-of-center movements for social change from the 1960’s and 70’s, a reaction that many have come to call “neoliberalism”.  Shorn at least superficially of some of the negative image of the old racist or xenophobic right, neoliberalism put itself forward as the defender of individual liberty against the tendencies of both the still-existing Communist states as well as against Western social welfare states.   Neoliberalism became the first “internationalist” right-wing movement since the Second World War and the Axis/fascist alliance in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Over a period of about two decades, neoliberalism won dominance as an ideology among the policy elite because of a number of factors both ongoing and historically specific to that era. In the 1970’s, the “liberal” Keynesian consensus had become morally and politically compromised on both the national and international levels.  The moral and political legitimacy of leaders of the US “welfare-warfare State”, the leader of the Western military alliance, was undermined by the Vietnam War.   A series of post-colonial wars of national liberation and guerilla wars against regimes installed by the US or former colonial powers pointed to an insufficient place given to the strivings for political and economic self-determination of peoples from outside the West within the post-War Keynesian model.   The 1973 OPEC oil embargo, rising oil prices, and declining yields from oilfields in the United States were key causes of a period of economic stagnation plus inflation, called “stagflation”.   The role of energy was overlooked as old political-economic antagonisms from the 1930’s between Keynesians and anti-Keynesians were revived against the backdrop of the world in the 1970’s.  

The supposedly Keynesian remedies for stagflation and imperial decline, attempted by a series of leaders who no longer clearly remembered the great financial crises of the 1920’s and 1930’s, did not seem to work or were dismissed out of hand by those who always were philosophically opposed to Keynes’s solution of government activism during economic downturns.  In the United States, “liberalism” and radicals of the left turned away from a focus on an economic program and the vision of an economically qualitatively “better” society.  The moderate and radical Left in the West became increasingly focused on a strategy of simply redistributing more equally existing political, social and economic resources among new political actors (women, people of color, less developed nations, gay people) and the dominant Euro-American white male elite, assuming that an already existing “affluent society” could be enlarged or its benefits more justly distributed.  Among the liberal left, the development of a political program for the society as a whole regarding the economy and politics became a secondary concern.  What came to characterize the established American “liberal” Left was that concern and policy would focus on sets of “others” who were downtrodden and not focus on either self interest as a generalized concept or more specifically as applied to Euro-American “white” males.

As a consequence, a discourse of “self-interest” for swaths of the population in the developed countries of the metropolitan center was not addressed politically by the moderate Left, while a small radicalized New Left splintered off, reviving the notion of a radical or revolutionary working class, within which most in developed societies, particularly in the United States, could not recognize themselves.  Thus the political-economic field was left open for a re-definition of socially-acceptable self-interest nominally independent of race, ethnicity or gender, into which the Right stepped with neoliberal ideology.

There emerged various economic theories, which formed the “business end” of neoliberal policy recommendations that suggested that cutting taxes on the wealthy and loosening regulations would spur economic growth and also, in the wishful thinking of early supply-side theory, paradoxically increase tax collections because of that growth.  The model-individual within neoliberal political and economic theory was the entrepreneur or investor who needed to be given the maximal “freedom” from government intervention or influence to make judicious business or investing decisions.  The institution that should rule society according to neoliberalism was “the market”, the social area in which self-interested economic actors interacted, which should be likewise “freed” from government support or intervention.

Neoliberal politicians also sought alliances with more traditional conservatives with whom they shared a common political enemy, the remains of the old and new lefts that were identified for the most part as either social democratic or Western Marxist in Europe or various flavors of “liberal” in the United States.  Traditional or “social” conservatives in the United States were based in areas of the South, Midwest and West where fundamentalist Christianity was experiencing a resurgence, itself in part a reaction to the social upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s.   While not as interested in economic issues as neoliberals, both social conservatives and neoliberals shared a distaste for and opposition to the rapid changes in cultural norms regarding individual self-expression, sexuality, forms of recreation and dress which were the most profound and lasting outcome of the social and political upheavals of the 1960’s and 70’s.

The resulting neoliberal synthesis was best expressed by Margaret Thatcher, now recently deceased, when she declared in a 1987 interview that “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families”.  While at the time, Thatcher’s statement was viewed as a political effort to push society in a right-ward direction, it also stands as a statement of neoliberal philosophy. Viewed as a worldview and a psychology rather than simply a polemic, belief in this statement would lead to selective misperception of the world and in particular a willful blindness to the connective activities of government and other social institutions.  In Thatcher’s comment, which she later attempted to back down from, a utopian idea was expressed: that the activities of government do not exist or should not exist yet, implied or stated as the goal of neoliberalism, complex societies should go on and prosper as they have in the past or go on to still greater prosperity.   Alternatively a “limited government”, a much “smaller” government than common in all advanced industrialized societies, would provide the same or better quality of life while commanding fewer resources for its own operations and services to the public.

Neoliberalism’s worldview is utopian in this regard because neoliberals, as well as the extreme libertarian version of neoliberalism, have for the most part assumed as “givens” the already-existing benefits (to them) offered by a very substantial government and generated by the complex internetworked society it enables, yet wishing government itself would disappear or diminish, leaving its effects behind.  Thus in a form of magical thinking or “splitting”, neoliberals have come to believe as if it were accomplished fact that they can create a society that  is “purified” of government but leaves what they value from government, its products and services or their positive effects, behind, very much like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat.  Neoliberals and libertarians do not for the most part want to return to a society that is composed entirely of extended family networks, a tribal society in fact, or at least most of the Right’s mainstream does not have a taste for the likely emergence of  a Mad Max style world.

Neoliberalism, like traditional reactionary conservatism, also shuns the role of empathy in the public sphere, seeing in it a weakness or a trap, from which the “clean” purity of the market and competition would free us.  In the neoliberal worldview, everybody is almost entirely self-interested and no one, including political leaders, is doing anything out of a sense of human solidarity or obligation to humanity as a whole but rather out of a self-interested calculus. The ultimate neoliberal theory of politics, James Buchanan’s public choice theory, marginalizes or rules out the role of altruistic or public-spirited motivation in the actions of political leaders.  One wonders whether or when this theory based on neoclassical economics becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, once the assumption of self-interest as a sole motivation in politics is made.  More altruistically minded people are certainly discouraged from entering government service within the current system of legalized corruption in American government.

25 Responses to Like a Wasting Disease, Neoliberals, Libertarians & the Right are Eating Away Society’s “Connective Tissue” – Part 1

  1. You’re preaching to your choir, man. You want equality, vote left. You want jobs, vote right.

    • Jon,
      You’ve got it wrong…more job creation generally during “left” governments, with “left” broadly defined.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobs_created_during_U.S._presidential_terms

      You’ve drunk the neoliberal kool-aid, apparently.

    • Auburn Parks

      I hope you’re joking….the three times since 1970 that the neo-liberal economic agenda achieved unemployment rates of 5% or below, we were riding large speculative asset bubbles and seeing huge spikes in private sector debt. You want to see an economy run at full capacity permanently…..float the deficit and set the unemployment rate with a jobs guarantee. Nothing will keep an economy running at full output better than a big infusion of some debt free fiat money to the private sector via the Govt’s budget deficit…..10% of GDP should just about do it given our current trade deficit.

      FRED unemployment rate:
      http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/UNRATE

      Private sector debt to GDP:
      http://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2012/1/9/1066626-132608573651625-marchahead_origin.png

      • Why would the government stop at a deficit of 10% of GDP? Why would they not go to 50%, 100% or even higher? Also the fact that the government can print money doesn’t mean it will necessarily go towards welfare/JG. It could as well go towards giving sops to the friendly corporations. If no excuses can be given for limiting welfare/government jobs, what excuses can be given to limit sops to corporations who “innovate”?

        • reserveporto

          Inflation. The gov’t wants real goods as much as anyone else. It sells money in order to buy those real goods. Even though it has an infinite amount of money to sell, there does not exist an infinite demand for money. The demand for money equals the demand for liquidity. If the gov’t sells too much money, inflation occurs and holders of the gov’t’s money become very unhappy with that gov’t. Their unhappiness leads them to seek to undermine that gov’t. It isn’t a fluke that most periods of high inflation are followed by, sometimes violent, changes of gov’t.

          • @reserveporto, True that. However, inflation is dependent on the extra money generated relative to the current volume of money in circulation, not GDP. An amount equal to 10% of GDP in US would nearly double the money in circulation and this money going directly to the consumers, as per the suggestion, could result in huge inflation. QE already nearly doubled the money in circulation, but since the money went only to the banks, the effect, so far, has only been asset price inflation and not inflation of consumer goods.

        • Auburn Parks

          What does your comment have to do with anything? Yes, unlimited money creation will lead to inflation….keep your straw man arguments to yourself please, I never said anything of the sort. I am merely pointing out th efact that Govt deficits are a better and more sustainable way to maintain full economic output and employment than asset bubbles and exponentially increasing private sector debt. My position is not controversial, its based on very simple economic reality.

          • My comment had to do with the figure of 10% of GDP you mentioned. That would result in staggering inflation when the money goes directly to the consumers.

            I understand MMT myself, but I am very sceptical of democratic governments becoming aware of MMT and yet restrain themselves to spending just short of causing runaway inflation.

            • There is no way to tell how an absolute size of a deficit would work.

              Domestic private balance + govt balance + external balance = 0

              The full employment budget is govt deficit (surplus) = consolidated non-govt surplus (deficit).

              The appropriate size of a deficit in a period could by anything. It is determined from period to period by shifts in the consolidated non-govt saving desire and the employment level. Since the budget is non-discretionary due to the endogenous nature of money, the suggested way to achieve the appropriate size deficit over a cycle is through automatic stabilization that expands and contacts the govt’s contribution counter-cyclically based on the effects of changing non-govt saving desire. The MMT JG is also proposed as a buffer that expands and contracts counter-cyclically in order to stabilize full employment while providing a price anchor against inflation.

              • Putting both fiscal and monetary deficit’s under the same category ‘deficit’ doesn’t clarify the issue. When a government borrows to finance deficit, it is withdrawing the money from those who could spend it on other things and directing it towards its own spending. This doesn’t increase the volume of money chasing the commodities and doesn’t lead to inflation. However when the deficit is financed through increasing the money supply, it has to lead to inflation. This is what QE has done, but the inflation was in assets. Since most of the government spending will go directly to the consumers at the lower end of the economic spectrum, it will be spent not on assets and on consumables driving their prices up, unless there is a matching growth in their supply. I seriously doubt there are enough physical resources to push up the supply of goods and services in demand and hence expect a serious inflation.

                Anyway, since everything else has been tried, there isn’t really anything left to do but implement the recommendations of the MMTers. It will lead to huge inflation and serious devaluation of the US$ vis-à-vis many currencies. But it is not as if there are many options left on the table.

                • “When a government borrows to finance deficit, it is withdrawing the money from those who could spend it on other things and directing it towards its own spending.”

                  When a currency sovereign spends, it does so by creating bank accounts, which results in an aggregate increase in consolidated net financial assets of non-govt. The issuance of bonds in offset drains the reserves added to banks’ reserve balances when the recipients’ deposit accounts are marked up. This addition through deficit spending allows consolidated non-govt to meet its saving desire in aggregate. The appropriate size deficit corresponds to the consolidated non-govt aggregate saving desire over the period.

            • Auburn Parks

              Oh boy….
              “Why would the government stop at a deficit of 10% of GDP? Why would they not go to 50%, 100% or even higher?”
              Inflation…..see how easy that was.

              “Also the fact that the government can print money doesn’t mean it will necessarily go towards welfare/JG. ”
              Fine, then cut taxes and keep Govt spending as a % of GDP the same….Suspend FICA and we’ll have 10% deficits and a guarantee that all the money is going towards wage earners.

              “My comment had to do with the figure of 10% of GDP you mentioned. That would result in staggering inflation when the money goes directly to the consumers.”
              And the proof or logic you provide is? I mean, I see a claim but nothing else.
              The average deficit over the last 4 FY was 8.7%
              http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=200
              And inflation is under 2%
              http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?utm_source=research&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=data-tools#

              M x V = P x Q

              Inflation and deficit spending don’t happen in a vacuum, if the economy is depressed because the private sector is deleveraging and thus the banks are expanding the money supply at a much slower pace if its not shrinking altogether….then the deficit can be very large because almost all the new money goes to increasing (Q)uantity along with (M)oney. If the unemployment rate was 3% and the Govt tries to expand the deficit by 10% of GDP….then we would probably start to see steadily rising inflation.

              We only need 2 rules to determine whether or not the Govt’s net addition of new financial assets to the private is too large….thank you Warren Mosler for coming up with this one!

              Is unemployment undesirably high? => The Govt’s deficit is too small
              Is inflation too high and rising? => The Govt’s deficit is too large

            • GRP:I understand MMT myself, but I am very sceptical of democratic governments becoming aware of MMT and yet restrain themselves to spending just short of causing runaway inflation. If you think that it really matters whether the new spending is accompanied by bond issuance or not, or that QE is spending of the type considered, or whether inflation effects depend in any direct or reliable way on the amount of money in circulation, you should think more about MMT. What is money? Bank money, bank lending can and does go up by 10% of GDP, and no runaway inflation.
              Basically, MMT is just Keynesian economics, done right. The US Congress, the whole world were aware of Keynesian economics and are still to some extent are aware of their power to spend as much as they want, and it didn’t cause runaway inflation or worse inflation than the neoliberal era even.
              So such skepticism is pretty dubious itself.

              • Calgacus – “Bank money, bank lending can and does go up by 10% of GDP, and no runaway inflation”

                Excellent point.
                The vast majority (~93%) of the money supply is bank credit.

                Government spending rarely causes inflation & then rarely of any significance.

                Reckless/fraudulent bank credit creation, on the other hand, frequently causes inflation (primarily asset price inflation) & is the primary cause of asset price bubbles that have resulted in the greatest level of asset price inflation in history.

        • Sure, the government could create too much money. But look at the record of the past few decades – overwhelmingly most new ‘money’ (that is, as most of us would understand it) is credit created by the banks to boost their earnings while fueling a series of asset bubbles. Governments have been positively miserly in contrast.

  2. “The ultimate neoliberal theory of politics, James Buchanan’s public choice theory, marginalizes or rules out the role of altruistic or public-spirited motivation in the actions of political leaders.  One wonders whether or when this theory based on neoclassical economics becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, once the assumption of self-interest as a sole motivation in politics is made.”

    As Chris Dillow points out in a recent post at Stumbling and Mumbling, “…neoliberalism is performative; it doesn’t just describe the world, but creates it.” Neoliberalism is not actually telling us that human being always act exclusively out of self-interest, which is patently false behaviorally unless one spins every instance of altruism in terms of self-interest, which reduces the claim to an empty tautology.

    Rather, neoliberalism tells us that this is the way we should act in the market state, where the omniscient market is vastly superior to human intelligence, since human intelligence is necessarily partial as manifested in individuals (Hayek).

    This is a metaphysical assumption similar to the Deism of the 18th c., to which the neoliberal interpretation of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” bears a close relation, although there is no evidence that Smith either intended this or was even influenced by it (Gavin Kennedy).

    It is an assumption that lies at the basis of the deeply flawed neoliberal theory of human action, along with Bentham’s crude utilitarianism, which equates value with utility and utility with self-interest, measured by a calculus of utiles received from goods. John Stuart Mill rejected such views as simplistic and unworthy of man: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.” (Utilitarianism, ch. 2).

    The result is a denial of connectivity of essentially human, and Aristotle’s assertion that man is a social animal. Or, there is the dire prediction that anything other than the market state leads inexorably to collectivism, even though it is clear to minds unbefuddled with nonsense and propaganda that the neoliberal market state leads to corporatism and fascism.

  3. “individuals in isolation and businesses as a group tend to want to “free ride” and not pay for connective goods and services”

    Which is why most societies have a single currency backed up by taxes. This single currency provides the money to get the non-government sector out of the deficit it always runs and enables growth. Indeed contrary to the first of the comments on this article if you want jobs in the non-government sector government is the goose that lays the golden egg that allows this. The Chinese Communist Party understands this but dogma constipated Libertarians do not!

  4. Tristan Lanfrey

    The Right has tended to glamorize old aristocratic and oligarchic regimes as against the efforts of the Left in both its reformist and revolutionary tendencies to change society for the better; the message of the Right: “better leave well enough alone”.

    Shouldn’t that read “better live well enough alone”? I’m trying to figure out what place they’d be trying to leave from and now I’m confused.

  5. I wpuld like to comment on the following:

    Michael Hoexeter wrote:
    ‘The Right has held up the repressive and occasionally disastrous political outcomes of some Left-identified revolutions as a “Medusa’s head” to scare politicians and the public from ever again imagining that empathy and human solidarity should be values in the public sphere.’

    The problem with the ‘radical Left wing’ and ‘Marxist ‘ regimes is not so much the stated values of the regime, it was that they sought to implement their values without regard to the dignity or suffering of their subjects. Hence their desire to create a ‘workers paradise’ invariably created a hell.

    This problem is not unique to ‘leftwing governments’. Rightwing fascists were also blind to others suffering or justified the suffering of the other. Even more so with religious leaders (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, animist… Pretty much all of them), who would preach peace and call for prosecution and war in the same sentence.

    I think empathy is only one of the values that need to be cultivated at the individual, institutional and community level. Active Awareness of the situation of the other, respect, trustworthiness, willingness to be flexible to promote the good and honest and search out and confront the sneaky and corrupt, courage to face adversity, these are the values that need to be promoted; in order to produce a society conducive to human flourishing.

    • I think that many marxist revolutionares saw the most pressing problem of the society to be, not that there was poverty and injustice and too much power in the hands of undemocratic monarchs and most of the wealth of the society at the ownership of few ultra-rich capitalist, but that they themselfs were not those leaders and owners of the society. Marxism just happened to be handy tool to get followers for a power grab and administration, for and for propaganda to denouce all opposition as counter-revolutionaries. An excuse for some of the oldest instincs humans ever had: desire to be the king instead of the king. That could explain hostility towards democracy.

  6. Jim Shannon

    All government has always been about money and who gets to keep the most! The Ultra wealthy have always used every kind of issue – freedom guns gays race religion party – you name it, to get We The People to take our eye off the reality of governments role in creating the CentaMillionaire$ and Billionaire$ and its TAX POLICY!
    We The People need to realize that we are being lied to and manipulated by Ultra Wealthy Malignant Narcissists who will rape murder stave eat or imprison every last one of us if it means they get ALL THE MONEY!
    Politics is just another weapon of the Ultra Greedy to oppress the uneducated!
    PAULO FREIRE
    “PEDAGOGY of the OPPRESSED”
    http://www.users.humboldt.edu/jwpowell/edreformFriere_pedagogy.pdf
    This might very well be the greatest and most important book of all time! PDF attached
    The uneducated and dependent oppressed can’t tax their educated wealthy oppressors out of existence! and that’s a fact of history! The World’s Educational System is responsible for the oppressor and oppressed alike.
    Freedom is not possible if you’re ignorant and kept from knowing the truth about reality!
    Clearly, the need to TAX ALL wealth or income exceeding $10,000,000 is the solution!
    But we can’t talk about that, because if we do their goons will starve us to death or kill us with some war to protect the property of the Ultra Wealthy and that too is a fact of recorded history!

    • Iowa Housewife salutes Jim

      Everyone has heard of Might versus Right. Why should the right way have to fight forever against Might? Stand up for limitation of fortunes to the maximum earned by work. Prevent Might.

      Unlimited fortunes means tyranny and Might against the right, against the people, against democracy. Stand up for limited fortunes for limited work.

      There is Might wherever there is belief in allowing unlimited fortunes. Might means tyranny, fascism, nazism, state terrorism, revolution, mass murder, undemocracy, unfreedom. It is the duty of everyone who is for democracy, for the right, for freedom, everyone who rejoices at the end of a war, to stand up against Might.

      Prevent concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and prevent Might, prevent slavery to the will of the few.

      Power corrupts. Stand up against corruption by standing up for limitation of fortunes. There is a limit to what any one person can truly earn.

      Unlimited fortunes is unjust, is theft from the people, from everyone. It is the duty of everyone who believes in justice to stand up against unlimited power.

      Unlimited fortunes means overpay and underpay. Overpay and underpay means violence. Stand up against unlimited fortunes.

      Unlimited fortunes means poverty and slavery for the many. Stand up against unlimited fortunes.

      Democracy is by definition impossible with concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer. Stand up against the destruction of your rights, of human rights.

      Unlimited fortunes means conflict between rich and poor. Prevent this conflict. Limit fortunes to the maximum self-earnable [approx US$10 million].

      Money is power. Power corrupts. Money and power are best when spread justly, according to how much work people do.

      Unlimited fortunes is unjust. No one can self-earn unlimited fortunes. Unlimited fortunes are theft. Theft causes violence. It is the duty of everyone who is against violence to stand up against unlimited fortunes.

      There is Might and there is Right. Right is right and Might is wrong. Might means misery, violence, danger, suffering, grief, war, crime, injustice. Stamp out Might. Stand up for limitation of fortunes to the just limit. Stand up against overpay and overfortunes. Stand up against underpay, underpower and underfortunes. Stand up for your rights. Stand up for the rights of all people. 99% of people are underpaid. 99% of people are parttime or fulltime slaves. Stand up against slavery and having to fight for what is yours.

      Only a fraction of 1% are seriously overpaid. Stand up against those very few ruining life for everyone. Stand up for sanity, for everyone good, for order and peace!

      1% get over 90% of world earnings. This is definitely wrong, definitely unjust, definitely theft. Stand up in defense of your family, your community, your country. Stand up against the theft of everybody’s everything by a very few. Outlaw super-overpay. Outlaw tyranny. Stand up for democracy, justice, freedom and peace.

      ‘Equality breeds no strife’, said the Athenians. Stand up against strife, against war and crime and social unrest and disorder.

      Stand up against the enemy of all good things. Stand up against unlimited power. Save your country from tyranny. Save your country and the world from endless terrible suffering under tyrants. Money is best when spread, said Francis Bacon. Enforce the just spread of money: equal pay for equal sacrifice to doing the work the money is token of.

      Everyone has heard that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is wrong and causes violence, crime and war. No one can work more than twice as many hours a week as the average person. The world has pay up to
      a million times the average hourly pay. This means poverty, underpay, underpower, undemocracy, unfreedom for 99% of people. Stand up against the destruction of everything good in life by unlimited fortunes. No one
      can earn a million times the average pay. This is stealing money and power from the people. Plunderers get plundered. Save the plunderers from being plundered all the time.

      True government, government for the best interests of everyone, is impossible with unlimited fortunes, with power in the hands of a few, continually being wrested from them. The more overpaid they are, the more time they must spend fighting off opposition, and the less time they can govern. The super-overpaid will always pursue their interests, not everyone’s interests fairly. If humans never stop stupidly craving having overpaid people, the overpaid should at least be forbidden to go anywhere near the governments.

      Limit fortunes and you will reap buckets of happiness. There is superplenty for everyone if money is spread fairly, according to work.

      The few get richer and the many get poorer has been going on for a very long time and so we now have extreme overpay and underpay, and consequently we have extreme violence in the world. War and weaponry are escalating all the time. We are within cooee of destroying the world. Stand up against the destruction of the whole world. We already have enough bombs to destroy the world 60 times over. Stand up against the destruction of the world. The world is under siege from rich and poor, from overpaid and underpaid. Stop this siege. Stand up for justice. Stand up against the endless robbing of the 99% of people who are underpaid.

      Present world income, spread according to work, would pay approx. US$100,000 to every family working average hard, the real figure may be double that – but the overpaid are getting 90% of world earnings, and this overpay, injustice and theft is causing the escalation of war and crime to destruction of everything. It is causing vast unnecessary suffering to billions of people, who are made angry by it, and who fight to get their rights. Stop terrorism, stop concentration camps, stop torture, stop state terrorism. Stand up for limitation of fortunes.

      Limit fortunes to US$10 million and end the wealth, poverty, and terrible conflict in your world. Stop everyone becoming evermore used and abused wage-slaves to a very few.

      Stop a very few from strangling the economy and peace of your country, from stealing everything by unlimited fortunes. Save capitalism from fascism. Make capitalism equally available to all, in justice. It is the duty of everyone to stand up for happiness. And there is no happiness without justice, without limited fortunes for limited work, without the prevention of wealth drifting silently, steadily, endlessly into fewer and fewer hands.

      Limit fortunes to US$10 million and you will preserve happiness, democracy and peace in the USA forever. You will make USAmerica a model for happiness for the world. It is madness to pay one person a million times the average hourly payrate, as we are now, causing extreme underpay and slavery, causing endless escalating violence and misery, when there is enough for every family in the world to have an income of at least US$100,000 if the money is spread justly, proportionally to work.

      Why do you put up with working as hard, and yet being paid a fraction of the pay of the most overpaid? Whatever happened to equality, liberty, justice, friendship, fairness, peace?

      USAmerica will just get more and more disturbed and violent, if you fail to do your duty, to limit fortunes to the maximum earnable. Are you for violence, suffering, disorder, chaos, or are you for peace, happiness, order, sanity? Prevention of overpay prevents underpay. Prevention of overpay prevents the endless deterioration of your quality of life, your safety, your future.

      The super-overpowerful have always murdered millions. Are you against massmurder, or not? The founding fathers of America passed laws to limit fortunes, the first thing after the Declaration of Independence. Will you? The American dream of freedom from tyranny failed. The laws limiting fortunes were not good enough. Look at America now. Save America from the self-destruction America is suffering. Save America from the self-destruction every empire has suffered once inequality grew to extremes.

      There is super-plenty for everyone, US$100,000, $150,000, probably even $200,000 per anum for every family for working average hard. 1% are overpaid. A tiny fraction of 1% are super-overpaid. A tiny fraction of 1% are getting 80% of the products of all the world’s work. Money is a ticket that allows us to take workproducts from the pool of workproducts – division of labor has been used as an excuse to dis-equalize contribution and withdrawal, but there is no logic nor sound reasoning behind this practice. The tradition is wrongheaded in the extreme. What makes sense is what makes justice: you take out the amount equal to what you put in by your own work, no more and no less. Stand up for right, stand up for good sense.

      It is hard to grasp how much the 1% get for things that are not their own work. They get over 90% of world money. That means, that there will be ten times as much money in people’s hands, in the economy, in the markets, if everyone is paid fairly. Overpay has gone to a super extreme. By allowing unlimited overpay, we have caused the robbery of ourselves. 99% of people are underpaid. That is, you are probably working part or most of the time to make some stranger rich, overpaid, overpowerful, able and very willing to rob you of your freedom, happiness and peace.

      Can you grasp that you have been robbed? That you are being robbed daily? That you earn much more than you think you do? That almost all the violence in the world is caused by you neglecting to prevent limitless overpay? Limitless overpay means limitless underpay, which is theft, which causes anger and violence, war and crime. Which escalates. Which has escalated for thousands of years because people have never prohibited unlimited overpay, which is giant robbery and mass murder, torture and terrorism.

      The income or increase in fortune for a fortnight’s work ranges from US$1 billion to $1. That is, from a million times the average pay, to a thousandth the average pay. A billion times as much for the same amount of work! A billionth as much for the same amount of work! I think people cannot really take that range in. It is beyond the general human powers of imagination. It is staggering. It is the mother of all facts about human existence. Say that the range of pay for a fortnight’s work is from $1 to $1 billion and you have told the story of human existence. That fact is enough to deduce enormous violence, enormous suffering, enormous disorder, enormous waste of happiness. A perpetual storm of crisis and disaster, chaos and craziness.

      Stand up for equal pay for equal sacrifice to work. Stand up for no more paying people for things that are not their own work.

      Or carry on with your perfectly senseless all-grab-for-all, grab off and grab back economic geno-sadism as you have for far too long, Humanity, and keep loyal to the suicidal idea to allow unequal reward for equal sacrifice.

      You’re choosing one or the other every minute.

      Meanwhile, the future is approaching at the rate of 1 second per second.

      Humans have painted themselves into the ultimate corner. We are in a maximal globalocal emergency. There is one way out. The price of walking through the door to survival is getting majority general human opinion in strong agreement to bestow fairpay justice on all humans.

      Everything else is auto-extinction.

      If you were the sole adult caregiver in charge of an orphanage, and you had to leave for a day to tend to an emergency, and you returned to find 2 of the bigger kids had taken all the food and clothes and toys for themselves and there was an enormous fight going on as the other kids tried everything to get some food, etc, and heads were being bashed with sticks and stones were being hurled and chaos was hurting everyone – how long would it take you to jump in and put a stop to that hot mess, eh? Would you first discuss the election of some politician, would you conduct a round table seminar on monetary theories? Would you be mentioning to anyone who would listen that taxes are too high? Or would you immediately set about taking the loot away from the bullies who stole what everyone needs to survive?

      If aliens in spaceships were sucking over 90% of the world’s wealth up into their saucers, humans would instantly unite to put a stop to that. But when it’s a fraction few human families doing exactly the same thing – sucking over 90% of the world’s wealth unto themselves, all we do is lament that there is so little left for everyone else to split!

      It seems it is impossible to plant the idea in human minds that overpay is killing us, has done us vast harm. The very word, overpay, is hardly in use. And yet it must be obvious to some part of us, that no one can work more than twice as hard as the average. We have the ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity, and we have the super hyper extreme opposite practice. We would never say that we believe in extreme slavery, maximal inequality and minimal fraternity, and yet we act in that belief every second of every day, and reap the extreme violence, disorder and danger without question! We would never grant that we give away enormous amounts of money to a few individuals, and yet we do. It is clear from the fact that 90% of people are paid between a 10th and a 1000th of the average, and that another 9% get between the world average and a 10th of the average, and that over 90% of world earnings goes to the remaining 1%. If the lowest hourly income is graphed at one millimetre, the highest hourly income is graphed at 1000 kilometres, a million metres, a billion millimetres. This astounding fact should go round the world in days. It should have gone round the world a long time ago. Something strange and very powerful it must be that prevents us grasping this fact in all its enormous significance. Equal pay per hour, which, however unjust it might sound at first hearing, has to be enormously more just and peaceful than what we have, is regarded with immediate instinctive unthinking aversion, and as terribly unjust, and the present state is regarded as ‘innocent’, as innocuous, as good, as just! Have we been wired back to front?

      A just cap on personal fortunes defeats all methods past, present, and future of circumventing justice.

      It seems that the general reaction to the idea that the rich have money that belongs to other people, and that this money can and should be gone after, in the names of peace, happiness, justice, democracy and everything good, generates fear, not excitement. Most people instinctively side with the rich, somehow, and when there is talk of taking money off the rich, people feel it as if it was money being taken off them, instead of money that belongs to them being returned to them. People seem to feel the idea as an attack on all the order in society. They seem to feel it as an invitation to theft, instead of feeling it as a return to justice and freedom from social disorder and disturbance. This feeling, so strange, and so hard to understand, is the reason that humanity has suffered so terribly, and so unnecessarily, for so many thousands of years. This strange reaction has kept humanity in bondage to vast, gigantic and unnecessary pain and suffering for a very long time. Looking at this reaction, trying to see it and understand it, is the key to the opening of the possibility of undreamt-of peace and happiness for humanity, is the key to our very survival.

      Humanity has a smashing hairdo and shit-filthy trousers. Humanity loves having the chance to have other-earned wealth more than we love survival. Get me off this nightmare planet where the dominant species is too stupid and cowardly to think and live. We are not only no longer ashamed of wanting our brother and sister to have less so we can have more, we are proud of ourselves for our depraved, enforced maldistribution. We use every imaginable excuse to attempt to justify overpay, we block from our minds that giving overpay means forcing underpay on others who work just as hard. We never say we are all members of a conspiracy to rob everyone of rightful pay, yet every day, every hour, every one of us is turning the handles of an insane economic dystem that grinds out minced humans, diced happiness, shredded safety.

      payjustice at fastmail dot fm

    • “All government has always been about money and who gets to keep the most!”

      Except governments of non-monetary economies?