Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Letter

It is said that the only way to eradicate the darkness 
is to make progress in the light.

This is a letter I wrote recently to a friend who is a Trump fan, a friend I treasure though our politics are worlds apart in some ways.  She sent me an article that complained how Trump was being harassed by Democrats to divest himself of his business interests before assuming office. It's sort of my message to the world this Christmas. 

"My wonderful friend, I love you dearly. 

"This story has been all over the news for weeks. Especially in the New York Times and foreign newspapers.  Because it's actually a big deal. The emoluments clause of the Constitution requires that all presidents do what the Democrats are demanding Trump do. Why his own party isn't demanding this as well is certainly weird. The old Republican Party of say 1970 would have. Every president in the past has done this, sold their properties and investments, usually before they even begin campaigning, so as to not have any conflict of interests while in office. Trump hasn't released his tax returns either, and I find that troubling.  Every US president since the 50s has released their returns during the campaign. There's a good reason for that. To show they have nothing to hide, for one.

I consider myself an truly independent thinker when it comes to politics, but I fear this is going to be a sad era for the country. As if things weren't bad enough already, (and I blame Democrats as well as Republicans for that), now we have billionaires who will run the country for their own profit and to our ruin as a nation. I am fearful for everyone's future and pray that  the half of the country who feels no obligation as citizens to actually vote might change their minds and vote next time, once they see how bad things can really get when business tries to run government. Business is not about people, it's about profits, and there is little or no profit in caring for the sick and elderly, educating our children, and promoting healthy families and lives, fixing roads and bridges, seeing that the people have clean air and water, that workers have dignity.

I know that you and I feel the same about these things, we value the same good things. We care about the less fortunate. I do think you might want to read some more authentic news sources rather than these websites that are weak on facts and big on getting folks so riled up they can't see their fellow citizens whose opinions might differ from their own as anything but enemies, when they're just people too trying to figure it out.  I think all this alt-right stuff is mighty un-Christian in spirit. It's mean and dangerous. I know my Testament as well as anyone and have no doubt all the hate and intolerance engendered by the Trump campaign is something Jesus would condemn strongly. I always remember how He tossed the money lenders out of the temple (where they didn't belong). The only time in the entire New Testament Jesus actually loses his temper.  I don't think Trump has a Christian bone in his body. He demonstrates time after time he's out for one person - himself. The arrogance of a man so obviously unqualified for the office, who during his entire life has never shown any interest in benefitting society, and with a documented history of ripping workers off,  thinking he deserves to be leader of the free world is just shocking to me.  God help us all, is all I can say. As ye sow...

Still, I hope your Christmas is a Merry One. You're so lucky to have [a granddaughter] to celebrate it with.  I love you and miss you more than you know. You are a true Christian woman and a good person. We should all be asking ourselves WWJD more often. Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, deal with the beam in your own eye, etc.  These things help keep the world a sane and loving place.

 I'm always so glad to hear from you. Be well. Stay in touch. Love to J---- if you see her.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Grim Tuesday, We Reap the Whirlwind

Shanghai Smog, What Price iPods?

Below arrived this morn from a pal in the UK, where the Tories are doing their best to outlaw workers' right to strike, the last recourse of working stiffs against the oppression of the rentiers.
Pretty soon, as Eddie Izzard would say, no talking and no drinking in bars.

The  making of a Lawyer.....
A father told his 3 sons when he sent  them to the university: "I feel  it's my duty to provide you with the best possible education, and you do not  owe me anything for that. However, I want you to appreciate it. As a token,  please each put $1,000 into my coffin when I die."

And so it happened. His sons became a  doctor, a lawyer and a financial planner, each very successful financially.  When their father’s time had come and they saw their father in the coffin,  they remembered his wish.

First, it was the doctor who put 10  $100 bills onto the chest of the deceased.

Then, came the financial planner, who  also put $1,000 there.

Finally, it was the heartbroken  lawyer's turn.  He dipped into his pocket, took out his checkbook, wrote  a check for $3,000, put it into his father's coffin, and took the $2,000 cash.  

He later went on to become a member of  Congress...

 I noticed on the BBC today that one of the Republican electors from Ohio wore a cowboy hat?  Since when are cowboy hats a thing in Ohio? The world is truly at sixes and sevens.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

So To Summarize....

From the weekly  Top Ten comments chosen by the editors of the NY Times:

4. Let’s see, so far we have a guy from Alabama dedicated to upholding the fine Southern tradition of voting prevention heading up the Justice Department, an alleged reincarnation of Patton affectionately known as “Mad Dog” for defense secretary, a general who wants to expand the Al Qaeda terrorist training camp in Guantánamo for Homeland Security, a conspiracy theorist as national security adviser, a fast-food billionaire who opposes health care benefits and better wages as labor secretary, a guy with a plan to dismantle health care access as Health and Human Services, a neurosurgeon with zero leadership experience for Housing, a billionaire who wants to divert funds from public schools for Education, a climate-change denier from fracking earthquake country for the Environmental Protection Agency, an interior secretary who wants to sell off public lands and half of the top management of Goldman Sachs for the rest.
What could go wrong?
— Look Ahead in Washington, reacting to an op-ed by Frank Bruni about Donald Trump’s search for a secretary of state.

What indeed? Oh let me count the ways. Most alarming to me is Trump's pick for Education Secretary. A woman who, in this moment of falling US international test scores (see PISA 2015 stats) –– the US didn't even make the top 10 –– she's looking to turn US schools into charter US Christian madrassas. I simply cannot believe this is happening and no one in government is publicly challenging the potential for severe damage to the demos.

Again, from today's Times:

"Betsy DeVos stands at the intersection of two family fortunes that helped to build the Christian right. In 1983, her father, Edgar Prince, who made his money in the auto parts business, contributed to the creation of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as extremist because of its anti-L.G.B.T. language.

"Her father-in-law, Richard DeVos Sr., the co-founder of Amway, a company built on “multilevel marketing” or what critics call pyramid selling, has been funding groups and causes on the economic and religious right since the 1970s.

"Ms. DeVos is a chip off the old block. At a 2001 gathering of conservative Christian philanthropists, she singled out education reform as a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” In an interview, she and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., said that school choice would lead to “greater kingdom gain.”

"And so the family tradition continues, funding the religious right through a network of family foundations — among others, the couple’s own, as well as the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, on whose board Ms. DeVos has served along with her brother, Erik Prince, founder of the military contractor Blackwater. According to Conservative Transparency, a liberal watchdog that tracks donor funding through tax filings, these organizations have funded conservative groups including: the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal juggernaut of the religious right; the Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family; and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy."

H. L. Mencken wrote: an election is a battle for the soul of the American people, a war, if you will,  of words and ideas.  But if truth is the first casualty of war, how is a nation of citizens – raised in an education system subject since the early seventies to decades of dumbed down and increasingly locally designed, ideologically influenced curricula – a nation not given to critical discernment, to see through the fog of war?  It never will if Ms. de Vos has her way.  This is Erik Prince's sister, for God's sake. The Prince of Evil himself, Cheney's personal hitman, a guy who singlehandedly created a privatized the US military to promote and protect the agenda of the rentier class and its government handmaidens, and at twice the price of a "government run" military. 

I don't know how much more I can take. I mean, it's not Aleppo, but the world seems so sharply divided these days, not between two opposing points of view, but between thinking people who have an appreciation of the negative effects of thoughtlessness and intolerance and plain ol' nihilists.

The Founders were revolutionaries of a sort, but they weren't nihilists. They had at least some appreciation that there is a benefit to considering the common good. What happens when that idea is no longer part of the equation?

Monday, December 12, 2016

The "Gaslighting" of America

The article below by the Editor of Teen Vogue is a ballsy, scathing critique of Trump's shell game politics. 

[And for the record, regarding Trump's recent crack (a lie) about the CIA and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the very weapons we sold them throughout the years of the Reagan administration, the very weapons the Bush Administration harassed a reluctant CIA into verifying despite evidence to the contrary, Wiki reminds us: " On March 21, 1986 the United Nation Security Council recognized that "chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces"; this statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained).[38]  "On March 23, 1988 western media sources reported from Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan, that several days before Iraq had launched a large scale chemical assault on the town. Later estimates were that 7,000 people had been killed and 20,000 wounded. The Halabja poison gas attack caused an international outcry against the Iraqis. Later that year the U.S. Senate proposed the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, cutting off all U.S. assistance to Iraq and stopping U.S. imports of Iraqi oil. The Reagan administration opposed the bill, calling it premature, and eventually prevented it from taking effect..." 

Fuck Ronald Reagan. Fuck The Bushies, And Fuck Donald Trump. And Fuck the Fascist "Alt-Right" Nazis. And if you haven't yet seen Oliver Stone's History of the US on Netflix, tune in soon. Most viewers will find themselves surprised at how much we don't know about our own government's shenanigans.]

Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America by Lauren Duca

The CIA officially determined that Russia intervened in our election, and President-elect Donald Trump dismissed the story as if it were a piece of fake news. "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," his transition team wrote in a statement. "The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again'."

It wasn't one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history, so presumably that's another red-herring lie to distract from Trump treating the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States like it is some rogue blogger to be cast to the trolls. A foreign government's interference in our election is a threat to our freedom, and the President-elect's attempt to undermine the American people's access to that information undermines the very foundation upon which this country was built. It's also nothing new. 

Trump won the Presidency by gas light. His rise to power has awakened a force of bigotry by condoning and encouraging hatred, but also by normalizing deception. Civil rights are now on trial, though before we can fight to reassert the march toward equality, we must regain control of the truth. If that seems melodramatic, I would encourage you to dump a bucket of ice over your head while listening to “Duel of the Fates." Donald Trump is our President now; it’s time to wake up.

"Gas lighting" is a buzzy name for a terrifying strategy currently being used to weaken and blind the American electorate. We are collectively being treated like Bella Manningham in the 1938 Victorian thriller from which the term "gas light" takes its name. In the play, Jack terrorizes his wife Bella into questioning her reality by blaming her for mischievously misplacing household items which he systematically hides. Doubting whether her perspective can be trusted, Bella clings to a single shred of evidence: the dimming of the gas lights that accompanies the late night execution of Jack’s trickery. The wavering flame is the one thing that holds her conviction in place as she wriggles free of her captor’s control.

To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country. He gained traction in the election by swearing off the lies of politicians, while constantly contradicting himself, often without bothering to conceal the conflicts within his own sound bites. He lied to us over and over again, then took all accusations of his falsehoods and spun them into evidence of bias. 
At the hands of Trump, facts have become interchangeable with opinions, blinding us into arguing amongst ourselves, as our very reality is called into question.

There is a long list of receipts when it comes to Trump's lies. With the help of PolitiFact, clear-cut examples of deception include Trump saying that he watched thousands of people cheering on 9/11 in Jersey City (police say there's no evidence of this), that the Mexican government forces immigrants into the U.S. (no evidence), that there are "30 or 34 million" immigrants in this country (there are 10 or 11 million), that he never supported the Iraq War (he told Howard Stern he did), that the unemployment rate is as high as "42 percent" (the highest reported rate is 16.4 percent), that the U.S. is the highest taxed country in the world (not true based on any metric of consideration), that crime is on the rise (it's falling, and has been for decades), and too many other things to list here because the whole tactic is to clog the drain with an indecipherable mass of toxic waste. The gas lighting part comes in when the fictions are disputed by the media, and Trump doubles down on his lies, before painting himself as a victim of unfair coverage, sometimes even threatening to revoke access. 
Trump has repeatedly attempted to undermine the press, including such well-respected publications as the New York Times. He has disseminated a wealth of unsubstantiated attacks on the media, though this baseless tweet from April pretty much sums it all up, "How bad is the New York Times -- the most inaccurate coverage constantly. Always trying to belittle. Paper has lost its way!" 

As a candidate, Trump's gas lighting was manipulative, as President-elect it is a deliberate attempt to destabilize journalism as a check on the power of government. 

To be clear, the "us" here is everyone living under Trump. It's radical progressives, hardline Republicans, and Jill Stein's weird cousin. The President of the United States cannot be lying to the American electorate with zero accountability. The threat of deception is not a partisan issue. Trump took advantage of the things that divide this country, pitting us against one another, while lying his way to the Oval Office. Yes, everything is painfully clear in hindsight, but let’s make sure Trump’s win was the Lasik eye surgery we all so desperately needed. 

The good news about this boiling frog scenario is that we’re not boiling yet. Trump is not going to stop playing with the burner until America realizes that the temperature is too high. It’s on every single one of us to stop pretending it’s always been so hot in here.

There are things you can and should be doing to turn your unrest into action, but first let's empower ourselves with information. Insist on fact-checking every Trump statement you read, every headline you share or even relay to a friend over coffee. If you find factual inaccuracies in an article, send an email to the editor, and explain how things should have been clearer. Inform yourself what outlets are trustworthy and which aren’t. If you need extra help, seek out a browser extension that flags misleading sites or print out a list of fake outlets, such as the one by communications professor Melissa Zimdars, and tape it to your laptop. Do a thorough search before believing the agenda Trump distributes on Twitter. Refuse to accept information simply because it is fed to you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. That is now the base level of what is required of all Americans. If facts become a point of debate, the very definition of freedom will be called into question. 

It will be far easier to take on Trump’s words when there is no question of what he’s said or whether he means it. Regardless of your beliefs, we all must insist on that level of transparency. Trump is no longer some reality TV clown who used to fire people on The Apprentice. He is the President of the United States.

The road ahead is a treacherous one. There are unprecedented amounts of ugliness to untangle, from deciding whether our President can be an admitted sexual predator to figuring out how to stop him from threatening the sovereignty of an entire religion. It’s incredible that any of those things could seem like a distraction from a greater peril, or be only the cherry-picked issues in a seemingly unending list of gaffes, but the gaslights are flickering. When defending each of the identities in danger of being further marginalized, we must remember the thing that binds this pig-headed hydra together. As we spin our newfound rage into action, it is imperative to remember, across identities and across the aisle, as a country and as individuals, we have nothing without the truth.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Noam Chomsky on the new Trump era

And let me reiterate:

In 1938 President Roosevelt warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.”

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." --H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956

Triumph: DiEM25 on how progressives must react (reprinted here from Diem25 site)

Donald Trump’s victory marks the end of an era when a self-confident Establishment preached the end of history, the end of passion and the supremacy of a technocracy working on behalf of the 1%. But the era it ushers in is not new. It is a new variant of the 1930s, featuring deflationary economics, xenophobia and divide-and-rule politics.

Passion has returned to politics but not in a way that will help the 80% left behind since the 1970s. Passion is now fuelling misanthropy. Passion is exploiting the anger of the 80% to re-arrange power at the top, while leaving the 80% moribund, betrayed and divided. And it is our job to stop this. It is our job to harness passion in the cause of humanism.

The Establishment’s folly is causing its demise. Unable to come to terms with the economic crisis they created, they crushed the Greek Spring because they could. They pushed the majority of British families into austerity-induced hopelessness. They committed millions of Germans to mini-jobs. They conspired to keep Bernie Sanders at bay. And when Golden Dawn, Brexit, the Alternative für Deutschland and Donald Trump were the result, they responded with a mixture of condescension, denial and panic.

Politics is undergoing a shake up that the world has not seen since the 1930s. A Great Deflation is now gripping both sides of the Atlantic, re-kindling political forces that had been dormant since the 1930s. President Trump’s use of Mussolini-like tactics and narratives is a mere symptom of the rendition of that bleak era.

What should we do?

The spectre of a Nationalist International that is upon us (from Trump and the Brexiteers to Poland’s and Hungary’s governments, the Alternative für Deutschland, Austria’s next president, Marine Le Pen) can only be defeated by the Progressive International that the Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM25, is building in Europe.

But, clearly, Europe is not enough. Progressives in the United States, those who supported Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, must band together with progressives in Canada and Latin America, to build a Democracy in the Americas Movement. Progressives in the Middle East, those who are shedding their blood against ISIS, against tyranny as well as against the West’s puppet regimes, must band together with progressive Palestinians and Israelis to build a Democracy in the Middle East Movement.

In 1930, our ancestors failed to reach out to other democrats across borders and political party lines to stop the rot. We must succeed where the others failed. Today, on the day of victory by the politics of fear, loathing and division, we pledge to take the fight to the Nationalist International, to form an effective Progressive International and to press passion back into the service of humanism.
Carpe DiEM25

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Paul Krugman Tells the Truth

In 1938 President Roosevelt warned that “the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism.”

Following is the Joke of the Day, but is it?

Donald Trump and Barack Obama somehow ended up at the same barbershop.
As they sat there, each being worked on by a different barber, not a word was spoken.
The barbers were even afraid to start a conversation, for fear it would turn to politics.
As the barbers finished their shaves, the one who had Trump in his chair reached for the aftershave.
Trump was quick to stop him saying, 'No thanks, my wife will smell that and think I've been in a whorehouse,'
The second barber turned to Obama and said, 'How about you?'

Obama replied, 'Go ahead, my wife doesn't know what the inside of a whorehouse smells like.'

"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. "

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Via Con Dios, Comrade

A towering historic figure and one of my personal heroes, has passed away, and with him an era of history, the waning of true independent nationalism. I am heartbroken, and that such a true symbol of The People should have died in 2016, a year of such immeasurable loss, seems fitting.  The words come to mind: "He should have died hereafter..."  I weep for a world without his brilliance and vision, his tenacious example of leadership, and constancy of responsibility for the poor.  Rest in Peace, Fidel.

Some commenters from the Times today below...


 Washington 5 hours ago

Lots of people are going to rag on Cuba, but I've got a slightly different perspective - Cuba represents a different way forward. While other Marxist-Leninist countries have reformed and failed, like the Soviet Union, or reformed and turned basically state-capitalist, like China, only Cuba has remained pretty much entirely socialist. And the thing that scares the owning class, I think, is that they're not a total failure.
You've got this little colonial backwater of an island that was built on slavery and a single cash crop, released from imperial control over a hundred years after the United States, fell promptly into U.S. influence, suffered repeated puppet governments and highly exploitative agricultural practices, and following a socialist revolution, it now has the highest standard of living in the Caribbean, one of the highest in Latin America, is the only country in the world to be highly developed in a sustainable manner, has relatively successful universal medical and educational programs (at all levels), eliminated extreme poverty in ways even the U.S. has not, maintained the second largest international military presence during the Cold War, has sent more medical aid workers worldwide than the UN, the World Health Organization, or all the G8 countries combined, and has survived half a century of economic warfare from the world's preeminent military and economic superpower (not to mention repelling a U.S.-backed invasion in '61).


 Coombs 5 hours ago

I'm not alone in remembering the images of Fidel in the mountains of Cuba fighting Batista. I was 8 or 9, he immediately became my hero, he still is. He fought against the tyranny of the gangsters who ran the casinos and brothels of Cuba. He was sure the US would applaud his ousting of the crooks. the United States turned against him. He introduced free medical care. He improved education,the literacy rate in cuba is probably higher than that of the US.

Philip S. Wenz

 is a trusted commenter Corvallis, Oregon 4 hours ago

When I went to Cuba I observed that there is no poverty there. The people are poor, compared to Americans, but no one is an economic outcast. Everyone has food, shelter, medical care and a free education. Let the US live up to that standard, and then we can brag about our moral high ground.


 NYC 4 hours ago

Fidel Castro is a Cuban nationalist and for that reason he was the enemy of the United States who much prefer foreign countries to have a pro-American leader that's willing to oppress its people for the benefit of the US. We see this in US overthrow of democratic Iran, Libya and numerous 3rd world nations.

Had Washington not try to occupy Cuba for the last 6 decades, Cuba probably will be a Scandinavian or France like country. Maybe not as wealthy but definitely middle class with small income gap courtesy of its industrious populace.

I hope Raul Castro and the Cuban people hold fast and continue Fidel's legacy of national sovereignty and equality.
 Houston 3 hours ago
American leaders have long confused the nationalist agenda as represented by Fidel Castro with communism, just as they did with Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, the nationalist movement in the Philippines in 1900, and similar such engagements in Central/South America; this was also true but not well-recognized in China at the beginning of the 20th century. The desire for global leadership by US government since the 1890's was reflected in the Monroe Doctrine in the Western Hemisphere, and by the Open Door Policy in Asia. Our policies since the 1920's relied on the "oh, look, over there...a squirrel!" type of deflection by using a grossly inflated 'fear' of Communism to cloak our real motives of global domination. Fidel Castro understood this completely, and originally worked US policy to his great advantage. Unfortunately, he became so enamored with power and dictatorship that his countrymen suffered for his ego. But he retained great popularity within his country; the people of Cuba did not forget the horrors of US-led dictatorship under Batista; American citizens either did not know, or chose not to know, about those manipulations, in Cuba and throughout South America as well as globally as mentioned. Castro was not a hero to Americans, but he was to a great many Cubans and South Americans for a long time...a great example of the saying that "all politics are local".
 Zika 6 hours ago
Viva la Revolucion! For millions of the oppressed, Castro was a symbol of hope. He defied the largest and most powerful empire for over 50 years, only 90 miles off its shore.
They tried, over and over, to destroy the revolution in Cuba, but they could never kill it - or him.
Fidel may have passed on, but the ideal of liberation from the horrors of capitalism will never die. Working men and women of the world will have victory one day.

“Nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this dignified and selfless country will renounce the glory, the rights or the spiritual wealth they have gained with the development of education, science and culture,” Mr. Castro wrote.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Mystery Solved?

Eureka! The origin of Donald's received hair wisdom. And it's none other than his Mum, the very same gal who, while prioritizing coiffure tips managed to forget to teach him to play well with others. You can NOT make this stuff up, people.

And can we just stop with all this circuitous maddening fear of offending stuff and start calling fascists fascists and Nazis Nazis when they insist on occupying the public limelight? THAT GOES FOR the NIHILISTS  that elected this bozo TOO. They're not rebels, they're NIHILISTS.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."  -Voltaire, philosopher (21 Nov 1694-1778)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

That's Right, Fuck 2016

Time For A Little History Lesson?

Think you know how all this happened? Sure you had nothing to do with it? If you can manage to read this entire piece by George Monbiot, written for The Guardian last spring, and can't discover your own culpability somewhere in his analysis, you're probably still part of the problem.

Because those who fail to study history are bound to repeat it.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at the White House.
Really? You thought this would be a good thing?
Imagine if the people of the Soviet Union had never heard of communism. The ideology that dominates our lives has, for most of us, no name. Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. 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. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?
So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.
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.
Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. 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. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.
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.
Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.
Among the results, as Paul Verhaeghe documents in his book What About Me?are epidemics of self-harm, eating disorders, depression, loneliness, performance anxiety and social phobia. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that Britain, in which neoliberal ideology has been most rigorously applied, is the loneliness capital of Europe. We are all neoliberals now.
The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.
In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises’s book BureaucracyThe Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.
With their help, he began to create what Daniel Stedman Jones describes in Masters of the Universe as “a kind of neoliberal international”: a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists. The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institutethe Heritage Foundationthe Cato Institutethe Institute of Economic Affairsthe Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.
As it evolved, neoliberalism became more strident. Hayek’s view that governments should regulate competition to prevent monopolies from forming gave way – among American apostles such as Milton Friedman – to the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency.
Something else happened during this transition: the movement lost its name. In 1951, Friedman was happy to describe himself as a neoliberal. But soon after that, the term began to disappear. Stranger still, even as the ideology became crisper and the movement more coherent, the lost name was not replaced by any common alternative.
At first, despite its lavish funding, neoliberalism remained at the margins. The postwar consensus was almost universal: John Maynard Keynes’s economic prescriptions were widely applied, full employment and the relief of poverty were common goals in the US and much of western Europe, top rates of tax were high and governments sought social outcomes without embarrassment, developing new public services and safety nets.
But in the 1970s, when Keynesian policies began to fall apart and economic crises struck on both sides of the Atlantic, neoliberal ideas began to enter the mainstream. As Friedman remarked, “when the time came that you had to change ... there was an alternative ready there to be picked up”. With the help of sympathetic journalists and political advisers, elements of neoliberalism, especially its prescriptions for monetary policy, were adopted by Jimmy Carter’s administration in the US and Jim Callaghan’s government in Britain.
After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed – often without democratic consent – on much of the world. Most remarkable was its adoption among parties that once belonged to the left: Labour and the Democrats, for example. As Stedman Jones notes, “it is hard to think of another utopia to have been as fully realised.”
It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative”. But, as Hayek remarkedon a visit to Pinochet’s Chile – one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied – “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism”. The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows.
Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.
Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein documented that neoliberals advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted. Photograph: Anya Chibis for the Guardian
As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans.
Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.
Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one.
Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.
The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income. When you pay an inflated price for a train ticket, only part of the fare compensates the operators for the money they spend on fuel, wages, rolling stock and other outlays. The rest reflects the fact that they have you over a barrel.
Carlos Slim
In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all phone services and soon became the world’s richest man. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters
Those who own and run the UK’s privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much. In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through firesales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all landline and mobile phone services and soon became the world’s richest man.
Financialisation, as Andrew Sayer notes in Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, has had a similar impact. “Like rent,” he argues, “interest is ... unearned income that accrues without any effort”. As the poor become poorer and the rich become richer, the rich acquire increasing control over another crucial asset: money. Interest payments, overwhelmingly, are a transfer of money from the poor to the rich. As property prices and the withdrawal of state funding load people with debt (think of the switch from student grants to student loans), the banks and their executives clean up.
Sayer argues that the past four decades have been characterised by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income.
Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land, Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.
The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.
Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.
Donald Trump
Slogans, symbols and sensation … Donald Trump. Photograph: Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters
Chris Hedges remarks that “fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the ‘losers’ who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment”. When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation. To the admirers of Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant.
Judt explained that when the thick mesh of interactions between people and the state has been reduced to nothing but authority and obedience, the only remaining force that binds us is state power. The totalitarianism Hayek feared is more likely to emerge when governments, having lost the moral authority that arises from the delivery of public services, are reduced to “cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them”.
Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity. Or rather, a cluster of anonymities.
The invisible doctrine of the invisible hand is promoted by invisible backers. Slowly, very slowly, we have begun to discover the names of a few of them. We find that the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has argued forcefully in the media against the further regulation of the tobacco industry, has been secretly funded by British American Tobacco since 1963. We discover that Charles and David Koch, two of the richest men in the world, founded the institute that set up the Tea Party movement. We find that Charles Koch, in establishing one of his thinktanks, noted that “in order to avoid undesirable criticism, how the organisation is controlled and directed should not be widely advertised”.
The words used by neoliberalism often conceal more than they elucidate. “The market” sounds like a natural system that might bear upon us equally, like gravity or atmospheric pressure. But it is fraught with power relations. What “the market wants” tends to mean what corporations and their bosses want. “Investment”, as Sayer notes, means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains. Using the same word for different activities “camouflages the sources of wealth”, leading us to confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation.
A century ago, the nouveau riche were disparaged by those who had inherited their money. Entrepreneurs sought social acceptance by passing themselves off as rentiers. Today, the relationship has been reversed: the rentiers and inheritors style themselves entre preneurs. They claim to have earned their unearned income.
These anonymities and confusions mesh with the namelessness and placelessness of modern capitalism: the franchise model which ensures that workers do not know for whom they toil; the companies registered through a network of offshore secrecy regimes so complex that even the police cannot discover the beneficial owners; the tax arrangements that bamboozle governments; the financial products no one understands.
The anonymity of neoliberalism is fiercely guarded. Those who are influenced by Hayek, Mises and Friedman tend to reject the term, maintaining – with some justice – that it is used today only pejoratively. But they offer us no substitute. Some describe themselves as classical liberals or libertarians, but these descriptions are both misleading and curiously self-effacing, as they suggest that there is nothing novel about The Road to SerfdomBureaucracy or Friedman’s classic work, Capitalism and Freedom.
For all that, there is something admirable about the neoliberal project, at least in its early stages. It was a distinctive, innovative philosophy promoted by a coherent network of thinkers and activists with a clear plan of action. It was patient and persistent. The Road to Serfdom became the path to power.
Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was ... nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.
Every invocation of Lord Keynes is an admission of failure. To propose Keynesian solutions to the crises of the 21st century is to ignore three obvious problems. It is hard to mobilise people around old ideas; the flaws exposed in the 70s have not gone away; and, most importantly, they have nothing to say about our gravest predicament: the environmental crisis. Keynesianism works by stimulating consumer demand to promote economic growth. Consumer demand and economic growth are the motors of environmental destruction.
What the history of both Keynesianism and neoliberalism show is that it’s not enough to oppose a broken system. A coherent alternative has to be proposed. For Labour, the Democrats and the wider left, the central task should be to develop an economic Apollo programme, a conscious attempt to design a new system, tailored to the demands of the 21st century.
 George Monbiot’s How Did We Get into This Mess? is published this month by Verso. To order a copy for £12.99 (RRP £16.99) ) go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.