To know the art of impressing the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of governing them.“The Crowd” by Gustave Le Bon
The market is the best information processor the world has ever known. In its perfect form, aided by government to the extent of its needs, it has led the western world to prosperity over the last 50 years. This perfect form is achieved through neoliberalism.
This is the story that champions of the market have sold to us.
I am not describing the world of laissez-faire capitalism and small government. We moved on from there after the Great Depression. If you’re over 40 today, you knew an anomalous period before neoliberalism gained a firm grip on society.
During this time it was easier, comparatively, for people to pay off a home and build a nest egg or six in the form of investment properties, share portfolios and superannuation. For most young people today, the only share they know is accommodation, super is weak and the door to home ownership has been slammed shut.
Before the Neoliberal Purge
After World War II, reconstruction projects became a critical part of repairing damage and neglect to the built environment. The economy and human psyche were also under repair. In Australia, this summoned a vast social housing program and a national policy of full employment (see Victor Quirk’s History of Full Employment in Australia).
And this was true full employment that didn’t fudge the picture by ignoring under-employment; in other words, leaving out people wanting more work than they could get as we do now.
Full employment was a 1945 promise to citizens by the Labor Government that they would no longer suffer the indignity of unemployment. A pool of unemployed has, historically, been a design of capitalist labour market systems.
Based on the model of the family with the wife at home, the Labor model had its limitations, but the intention was to see that no-one starved and many prospered.
Despite initiatives like this, Australia lagged behind England with its Beveridge Plan in key areas. It wasn’t until the arrival of the Whitlam Government in 1972 that health and tertiary education became free (see John Ralston’s history of free public education).
My father was 11 years old selling newspapers on a Paddo tram in Sydney when he fell and his leg was crushed. This was 1936 and from then on the cost of a wooden leg replacement was a substantial burden until Whitlam made them free. For people with major medical ailments, this was the pre-Medicare experience. Sir Robert Menzies wasn’t quite a socialist.
Still, it was an increasingly progressive world that working class families experienced. Before the champions of identity politics start jumping up and down, no, the world was not perfect but for the average working class person things were improving. Many gained an education bought homes and raised families.
This world operated according to something called Keynesian economics which was particularly prominent in the anglophone world. Where the economy failed to create enough jobs, it was understood the government had a responsibility to fill the gap. If the economy was faltering or sluggish, Keynesian economics called for government stimulus to reinvigorate it.
It also placed a floor under wages. The lowest pay a worker needed to accept was one set at a base level public sector pay rate. This system provided many entry level jobs for young people. Even a conservative Prime Minister like Menzies was forced to support this very popular system.
Time to Change the Rules
These conditions began to fracture in 1973 with the OPEC crisis and resulting stagflation. Economists describe staglation as rising inflation and unemployment occurring simultaneously. Prior to this time, it was understood that these were meant to counter-balance each other.
Which brings me back to neoliberalism. Where did it come from? It was a term created by the Mont Pelerin Society which formed in 1947. But it was more than a term. It was a way of viewing the world and much more than the loose pejorative term for neoclassical economics that many of its detractors think it is.
This society initially included 39 economists and thinkers gathered around economist Friedrich Von Hayek. Their collaboration was informed and alarmed by the rising popularity of progressive social policies. The working class had to be reminded of their place in the world.
In response, Hayek’s collaborators designed, developed and incubated the idea of the market as a giant information processor. One that was endowed with special qualities which made it the the perfect vehicle for dispensing wisdom in the form of price signals.
1947 was not a great time for such ideas. A testament to the Society’s patience is that they waited until 1973 to share its vision with the world. The Mont Pelerin Society wasn’t the only body interested in changing the direction of the world’s most powerful countries. Numerous other groups and think tanks were motivated to head off socialism and progressive economics.
One was the Trilateral Commission, initiated by David Rockefeller, and also formed in 1973. The number of these organisations and their reach has exploded over the last 50 years to the point where neoliberal thinking is the dominant framework for all public debate. At least it has been till now.
Neoliberalism demanded that concepts such as full employment be forgotten. How do you help people forget a system they had lived under and enjoyed for close to 30 years? You set the media, academia and government instrumentalities to the task of re-educating the public that unemployment is a personal failure.
In Australia, a key role was given to the Murdoch and Packer empires. I recall, almost to the day, when Channel 9’s A Current Affair began its 50 year attack on the unemployed.
We Need To Change the Way You Think
As historian of economics Philip Mirowski has explained, a central part of Mont Pelerin project was the removal of the history of economics from universities. This allowed the depiction of a new world through models and formulae divorced from past economic orthodoxy and bearing little relationship to human behaviour.
Our psychology was recast as calculative and self-obsessed. Supposedly, we are always on the lookout for a deal and to snatch our best advantage. It is a world that promotes competition and produces winners and losers. The answers to problems is the creation of a new market and the answer to the problems that creates is more markets (think climate change).
Today, price signal reading is a puzzling business. Let’s look at housing. In the USA, companies like Black Rock are buying up whole housing estates. You read those price signals and turn up at the auction to buy the house you estimated at $600,000 and find it sold along with the other 100 homes on the estate for $100,000 more. You misread the signal. Bad luck.
In Australia, as more and more investment tools and tricks are turning modest homes in working class suburbs into luxury items, we have governments seemingly impotent to do anything about it. This is having the effect of forcing young people to delay having families which in turn introduces a form of neoliberal eugenics into the game. Children of good price signal readers have an advantage here. It also helps if Mum and Dad have plenty of money.
“Under neoliberalism the market system is perfect. All success or failure is personal”.
Is this designed? Are our politicians really impotent or our enemy? This is a question I would have asked more tentatively a year ago. The neoliberal narrative is becoming anorexically thin but historically it demanded we accept that the market is perfect. All success or failure is personal. Your success in life is determined by how well you read the signals of the market? These signals are given off in dollars. With close to $500 million in investment properties, our Federal politicians are reading the housing market signals very well.
What is Left?
I have always considered myself to be on the left of the political spectrum. It is clear to me that the exceptionally wealthy have things organised so that they end up with more money and resources than they can claim to have earned. They are the 1%. To be realistic, there’s at least another 19% who do their bidding.
When I say LEFT, I am NOT speaking to this 20%.
Lazy media use the terms LEFT and RIGHT to perpetuate the ridiculous two party system as though either the Democrats and Republicans in the USA or Labor and Liberal in Australia cover the political landscape in any meaningful way. All these parties are servants of power. Biden is NOT of the left. Nor is Albanese.
To me, left is about sharing the resources of the world in an equitable way. I have nothing against the Chinese and Russian people or whoever we are supposed to hate this week. My world view is not threatened by Islam. I reject the competitive characterisation of humanity foisted on us by neoliberalism and media lies. Our lives should not model the values of the 1%.
On the environment, we don’t have to agree on climate change to despair at the proliferation of plastic in our diet. It will always be easier for the wealthy to insulate themselves from damage to the natural world. The group that benefitted most from environmentally destructive industry are now promising to provide much needed solutions.
Meanwhile, many people who claim to be of the left support the current experimental gene therapy project being extended to 5 years olds. This makes me ill.
COVID-19 AND HOW THE LEFT WAS ROLLED
According to Mirowski, a major failure of left politics is its inability to understand the logic of markets and neoliberalism. Instead of confronting this opposition, the left has splintered, through identity politics, into dozens of hostile tribes. Academia now eschews the notion of class as an epistemological basis of discussion. It favours narrowly defined projections of identity whose apotheosis is found in a sneering, isolated society of one.
Bob Ellis expressed this in a stunningly beautiful elegy for lives lost to interruption.
“He died of the characteristic American disease of vestigial identity. Interrupted enough your identity becomes vestigial. You have been sold too many versions of yourself and you have not had time to sort them through, so loud is the drumming of the hoopla of the great world invading every second of your life”.
So how is this demoralised left positioned to deal with the challenges we face? The battle that neoliberal economics brought to working people now has a new dominant partner. Like the price signals of neoliberalism, Covid-19, God-like, brings another series of demands that must be obeyed. This virus is perfectly omnipotent and the only answer to it is the omnipotent vaccine.
Stories of adverse events and deaths fail to break through media’s pro-vax filter so they haven’t happened. Your affliction becomes a personally important event but not one that should bother the rest of us. The system in place to address Covid-19 is perfect as was the neoliberal one that preceded it.
Like the heterodox economists who challenged the mental illness, inequality and poverty that living under neoliberalism brought, vaccine resistive doctors, nurses, mental health practitioners are labelled anti-vaxxers and ridiculed for their care. Challenges to this perfection are not permitted.
The Covid-19 project is built on lies
The old lies about surpluses, deficits, unemployment and personal economic failure have been swept away. Replaced by new lies curated sometimes meticulously but often bluntly around masks, passports, causes, cures, symptoms, treatments, vaccine status, hospitalisation, ICU numbers, vaccine induced damage, social distancing, mandates, lockdowns and death.
The key point to note here is Covid-19’s domination of the old economic system. Our society’s key purpose until March 2020 was to strive for surplus. It was nonsense but this was the dominant narrative. It drove everything. It drove the quality of our hospitals, schools, universities, galleries, public transport and parks. The surplus story was designed to limit our expectations. To make sure we didn’t ask for too much. Now, that story has made way for a new one.
It hasn’t been revealed to us yet. Why should it be? The old one wasn’t explained to us either. We only saw its results. The smart ones read the price signals. Others, like me, see how slowly, sedulously and surreptitiously the post-war gains have been clawed back by a system built on lies.
The Pseudo-Left Has Sold Us Out
Managed by their duplicitous leadership, the Labor Party saw no real reason to challenge the earlier neoliberal thrust. Its current leader, Anthony Albanese, has always been neoliberal in outlook. Along with the Greens and Liberals his party was happy to manage down our expectations based on the deficit / surplus lie as long as they stayed in control and didn’t need to answer our questions.
“Now, the parties of the so-called left have joined the attack on the unvaccinated. What happened to the feminism’s cry of bodily autonomy?”.
Now, the parties of the so-called left have joined the attack on the unvaccinated. What happened to feminism’s cry of bodily autonomy? Where is the fight against authoritarian rule? Where are the union officials defending the rights of workers as their jobs are stolen? From my 50 year engagement in politics this looks like a straight fascist right assault as business, media, health and government representatives collude to force through Big Pharma’s dangerous, reckless, ambitious agenda.
Even the self-proclaimed true left, the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) who produce wsws.org, joined the vaccinate or else cause. I have a special word for my SEP friends here. Yours is the group expecting the working class to rise any moment and wrest control from these monsters. You are the unabashed revolutionaries.
This was your moment. The working class was looking for leadership. Many who took these experimental gene therapies did so very reluctantly. Where was your support for them? To use an analogy as worn out as your rhetoric, a bus labelled revolution stopped right outside your door and you missed it,
And to really get these Trotskyites blood pressure up, the virus was almost certainly weaponised by combined US and Chinese scientists in that Wuhan laboratory with funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the guidance of Fauci.
All the key institutions of the left deserted workers so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that workers are now looking to some very dubious support. What we are all looking for is someone to trust. You might hope we could find that in each other but even our personal relationships have been weaponised down to the family level.
All this has happened as we prepare to face a new big lie. What will the new lie be? Maybe our master class won’t need one. From what we are seeing now, the need for their subtlety and artifice doesn’t seem essential in this new world. It is looking more like the future George Orwell described:
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”
On a more hopeful and immediately practical level find your true friends and hold them fast. Even break a few rules to be with them. How can things be worse? Let’s find out together.
History of Neoliberalism with Philip Mirowski is an excellent history of the Mont Pelerin Society =, what it aimed to achieve and how it derailed the left.
Neoliberalism and Climate Change – Mirowski discusses the steps neoliberals use to confuse the issue of climate change. He challenges Naomi Klein’s well before she became the CIA linked Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies
History of Full Employment in Australia – Victor Quirk’s work in this area is indispensable.
Interruption – talk by the late Bob Ellis
Monopoly – who owns the world? with Tim Gielen. A discussion of the 1%’s role in our world with particular emphasis on Black Rock and Vanguard.