April 29, 2016
Friend Rakesh Agarwal sought my comments on an article entitled, “Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems” by George Monbiot.
I’d never waste time with articles that use ill-defined words and then blame ALL “our problems” on ill-defined words, but given Rakesh is a good liberal friend and I’ve got a few minutes today, let me put down a few thoughts. I’m only extracting a very few lines from Montbiot (italicised), given it only takes a few lines to demolish this piece of trash. My comments are in blue.
[Btw, I had a quick look at what Monbiot stands for, and here are some examples:
Monbiot’s prediction – 1 year to go – The man is a comprehensive duffer in the tradition of Paul Ehrlich and the likes: and has been PROVEN comprehensively wrong. But such people never give up lying.
Anyway, let me move to my own analysis.]
Neoliberalism: do you know what it is? Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump.
[Sanjeev: The deceptive man can’t even throw a red herring properly. The key cause behind all these is GOVERNMENT FAILURE.
- financial meltdown: I’ve analysed its causes in my 2009 article, here. 90 per cent attributable directly to government failure.
- offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse. This is largely attributable to corrupt government policies and crony capitalism.
- the slow collapse of public health and education – well, this is more clear than almost all other issues: government directly manages much of these; its failure is rampant and comprehensive. And breakdown of regulatory systems.
- resurgent child poverty. This is a direct consequence of the destruction of family by the bloated welfare system in the West.
- epidemic of loneliness. What is this? What epidemic?
- collapse of ecosystems. This is found almost solely in societies that have acute government failure. Protection of environment requires both regulation and allocation of property rights. Where these are properly organised, there’s no such collapse.]
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.
[Sanjeev: Given that Monbiot later in the article cites Hayek and Mises as the key “neoliberals” – Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek – I assume by “neoliberalism” he means liberalism. Both Hayek and Mises were vigorously liberal: defenders of liberty.
Now, if that is the case, then it is the purest form of nonsense to suggest that “Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations“. Indeed, the greatest defining characteristic of the human species is collaboration and cooperation. It takes the most wonderful feats of collaboration even to deliver a simple thing like a pencil. The human orchestra is coordinated by the price system, by the persuasions of which all people spend their entire life serving others’ needs. How can serving others’ needs FIRST, in order to achieve one’s own, be classified as purely competition?
Then: Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty.
It is nonsense to suggest that Hayek and Mises were stupid enough to advocate a single-point agenda: blind competition. Both saw a clear role for government. Indeed, liberalism sees the role for a very strong government. Government can, and should, regulate competition where it can’t work properly because of externalities or other adverse impacts. Many examples abound: urban planning, grazing in the commons, supply of roads. Many monopolies are given directly to government, e.g. defence, internal security of the nation, justice system. Hayek wrote at great length on the need for anti-trust legislation, although Mises cautioned us to not make any unwarranted assumptions about monopolies.
But apart from these and similar cases, what does Monbiot want to do: to step into markets where the competition for our custom has led to enormous innovation, productivity and prosperity for all? Monbiot neither understands Hayek or Mises, nor has a theory of competition and prices.
Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised.
What does Monbiot want? To increase taxes blindly? To maximise regulation blindly, without regard to the costs and benefits?
And since when did Hayek or Mises ask for all public services to be privatised?
What is wrong with privatisation, anyway? Privatisation is about letting the PEOPLE do things, for themselves? Why should government produce shirts, scooters and radios?
What are public services, anyway? We can readily demonstrate that there is no reason for a government to run hospitals or schools. There is a role for government in funding the poorest of the poor; no role in running these “services” directly.
The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers.
This is pure nonsense. Liberalism insists on the freedom of workers to organise themselves. It was liberal countries which promoted unions. China doesn’t allow unions. The only issue is when unions cheat their members – as has been commonly the case. Is it wrong to criticise corruption in unions?
Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone.
This is a most insidious comment. Does Monbiot want total economic equality? Clearly a Marxist, intent on destroying entire societies.
The goal of a free society must be equal opportunity. And that means removal of poverty. There is no role for a government in considerations about economic inequality.
But is inequality a “virtue” in itself? Not at all. Wealth (or the absence of it) is neither here nor there. Virtue is in the actions of individuals, not in their wealth (or absence thereof).
We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.
I don’t know where these wild generalisations are coming from. Just one absurd assertion after another.
Anyway, I’ve spent 40 minutes on this fellow’s useless and confused ideas.
I don’t have patience to write more against this piece of tripe.
Sorry, Rakesh, I think I’m done. I trust you see the point.