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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Under the Libertopian Spell

The pernicious impact of market fundamentalist faith (what gets called "libertarianism" by the boys online and "neoliberalism" by the boys in the thinktank archipelago, and which, taken together, constitute what I like to think of as the Libertopian Noise Brigade) on foreign and domestic policy is impossible to overestimate.

Until the myths of "natural markets" and "spontaneous orders" are finally dead and buried for good, you better believe that incumbent elite interests will continue to deploy these facile figures to rationalize their brutal exploitation of others, to deny their dependency on the labor of others, past and present, and to justify the ongoing confiscatory concentration of planetary wealth and authority.

Market fundamentalist faith provides what is by now an "intuitively" compelling but utterly self-serving rationale for the dismantlement and neglect of indispensable infrastructure (both physical and legal), treating and framing this theft and fraud as if this were really always a matter of "releasing" pent up forces in nature or "freeing up" arbitrary barriers, rather than a matter of outright physical confiscation of assets and the imposition of institutional barriers to democratic scrutiny of public decision making by elites. Market fundamentalist faith provides what is by now an "intuitively" compelling but utterly self-serving rationale for the wildly disproportionate redistribution of wealth to the richest and most privileged interests in society through an amplified militarization of public spending as if this were really always a matter of "acting in self-defense" or "responding" to external provocations, rather than a matter of outright physical confiscation of assets and the imposition of institutional barriers to democratic responsiveness to expressed public budgetary priorities.

What get called "natural markets" in the actual world are the furthest things from spontaneous upwellings of eternal tidal forces of supply and demand, but are articulated and regulated through contingent historical regulations, laws, assumptions, protocols, institutions, and always in ways that respond to certain stakeholders interests prevailing in a particular time and place. (In relatively democratic orders one should expect the regulation and facilitation of production and trade to respond to the widest range of stakeholders, rather than to elites, since democracy is simply an experimental project to implement as widely and as deeply as possible the idea that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them. Needless to say, one would be frustrated to register the distance between this reasonable expectation and reality.)

Market fundamentalist ideology is like a magic spell that would transform what is confiscation into a mirage of liberty, transform what is neglect into a mirage of autonomy, transform what is self-centered greed into a mirage of civic-mindedness, transform what is short-sighted opportunism into a mirage of wisdom and foresight, transform what is the imposition of force into a mirage of relief from force, transform what are historically contingent arrangements into expressions of eternal law, transform what are customs into a mirage of nature, transform fraud into a mirage of science.

Market fundamentalism is magical thinking, it is a self-serving mythology, it is a system of interlocking superstitions and strategic deceptions, it is a vast bloodsoaked scam mouthed by scam artists who smugly declaim (and, even worse, many of them are deluded enough to believe themselves) that they are "scientists."

You know, there is a lot of tough talk about religious fundamentalism online these days (too much of which seems to me to function primarily as a way of oversimplifying and unhelpfully demonizing the abundant esthetic and moral varieties of religious belief and practice prevailing in the world or, worse, to justify for privileged North Atlantic audiences awful ongoing racist projects of corporate-militarist hegemony), but it seems to me that this discourse is for the most part neglecting what has to be the most catastrophic fundamentalist faith at work in the world today.

Until we manage to break the spell of market fundamentalist pieties we will never break the deadweight of incumbent privilege and democratize the world.

1 comment:

Martin Striz said...

What get called "natural markets" in the actual world are the furthest things from spontaneous upwellings of eternal tidal forces of supply and demand, but are articulated and regulated through contingent historical regulations, laws, assumptions, protocols, institutions, and always in ways that respond to certain stakeholders interests prevailing in a particular time and place.

As Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, since various industries are often dependent on each other, the liberalization of markets usually requires a certain sequencing and pacing. That's why the IMF/World Bank model of rapid, wide-scale liberalization has failed so often, and even the few successes (Chile, East Asia) have had moments of volatility.

Contrast that to the well-regulated, well-sequenced, well-paced liberalization that has been going on in China for the last 25 years. China's GDP will surpass that of the United States within 20 years, and it will have a middle class larger than the entire American population. Although, obviously, there's plenty of criticism to be leveled at the Chinese government concerning human rights, one thing that it has done right (for the most part) is macro-economic management.

Iraq was just another IMF/World Bank-style blunder. A free market utopia that never materialized.