As it happens, the organization and dissemination of the right-wing resistance to macroeconomic literacy, North Atlantic social democracy, and Roosevelt's New Deal, the moment when both Movement Republicanism and the Randroidal-Friedmanian libertopian pseudo-intellectual strain that fuels Movement Republicanism to this day was born can be dated just as confidently as Moore dates the turning of the tide. The date is April 8, 1947, and the signing by its members of the "Statement of Aims" of the Mont Pelerin Society.
Mont Pelerin was spearheaded by market fundamentalist icons Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises (members George Stigler, Karl Popper, Henry Hazlitt, Leonard Read all loom large in the reactionary-libertopian organizational and rhetorical universe), and members of the Society included countless figures who would be prominent in conservative administrations in Europe and the United States (a third of Reagan's economic advisors were members, as were some key figures in his cabinet) as well as in enormously influential right-wing publishing and media formations.
No less pernicious was Mont Pelerin's role as the fountainhead of the right-wing think-tank movement which sought, and has largely succeeded in, creating a fraudulent funhouse mirror of the world of the legitimate academy. So much of the anti-democratic and anti-governmental rhetoric yoking freedom with so-called free markets and championing "open societies" -- where "openness" designates the deregulatory clear-cutting of general welfare, the privatizing looting of public goods, the libertarian exposure of the vulnerable to limitless predation and violence -- arises out of Mont Pelerin.
Karl Polanyi saw the threat clearly even as it emerged, and wrote the still indispensable book The Great Transformation as a call to arms that was never heeded as it should, but inspired readers generation after generation to this day (it is always a big hit with my students). Both David Harvey's excellent A Brief History of Neoliberalism and Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan provide glimpses of this story of Mont Pelerin and post-war anti-civilizationism, which I think is even less well-known than the recent history Moore brings to the attention of a new generation in his piece. It is from Moore's piece, though, that I am quoting here:
From time to time, someone under 30 will ask me, "When did this all begin, America's downward slide?" They say they've heard of a time when working people could raise a family and send the kids to college on just one parent's income (and that college in states like California and New York was almost free). That anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one. That people only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer. That many jobs were union jobs, from baggers at the grocery store to the guy painting your house, and this meant that no matter how "lowly" your job was you had guarantees of a pension, occasional raises, health insurance and someone to stick up for you if you were unfairly treated. Young people have heard of this mythical time -- but it was no myth, it was real. And when they ask, "When did this all end?", I say, "It ended on this day: August 5th, 1981." …Follow the link for more, including organizations and movements Moore recommends you might want to connect with if you are concerned about the issues he is talking about and want to do something about them. And as I always say: more, and better, Democrats! Perhaps you should get more involved with your local Democratic party or think about running for office yourself?
On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who'd defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days…. Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started -- a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person. The rich hated paying better wages and providing benefits. They hated paying taxes even more. And they despised unions. The right-wing Christians hated anything that sounded like socialism or holding out a helping hand to minorities or women.
Reagan promised to end all that. So when the air traffic controllers went on strike, he seized the moment. In getting rid of every single last one of them and outlawing their union, he sent a clear and strong message: The days of everyone having a comfortable middle class life were over. America, from now on, would be run this way: The super-rich will make more, much much more, and the rest of you will scramble for the crumbs that are left. -- Everyone must work! Mom, Dad, the teenagers in the house! Dad, you work a second job! Kids, here's your latch-key! Your parents might be home in time to put you to bed. -- 50 million of you must go without health insurance… -- Unions are evil! You will not belong to a union! You do not need an advocate! Shut up and get back to work! No, you can't leave now, we're not done. Your kids can make their own dinner. -- You want to go to college? No problem -- just sign here and be in hock to a bank for the next 20 years! -- What's "a raise"? Get back to work and shut up!
And so it went. But Reagan could not have pulled this off by himself in 1981. He had some big help: The AFL-CIO. The biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that's just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers -- they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly. Reagan and Wall Street could not believe their eyes! Hundreds of thousands of working people and union members endorsing the firing of fellow union members. It was Christmas in August for Corporate America. And that was the beginning of the end. Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything -- and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn't accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway.
And at every step along the way, the majority of Americans went along with this. There was little opposition or fight-back. The "masses" did not rise up and protect their jobs, their homes, their schools (which used to be the best in the world). They just accepted their fate and took the beating. I have often wondered what would have happened had we all just stopped flying, period, back in 1981. What if all the unions had said to Reagan, "Give those controllers their jobs back or we're shutting the country down!"? You know what would have happened. The corporate elite and their boy Reagan would have buckled. But we didn't do it. And so, bit by bit, piece by piece, in the ensuing 30 years, those in power have destroyed the middle class of our country and, in turn, have wrecked the future for our young people. Wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. Take a look at the statistics and you can see that every decline we're now suffering with had its beginning in 1981… It all began on this day, 30 years ago. One of the darkest days in American history. And we let it happen to us.