Neoliberalism: Why does this persist and do we have a choice?

This blog is designed to open people minds, to encourage you not to accept everything your national government tells you and to employ a certain amount of critical thinking when reading or watching information in the mainstream media. I appreciate some things that will be discussed here will be hard for some people to accept. This is understandable, as questioning the validity of your government feels uncomfortable at first and puts your very understanding of democracy in the spotlight. I also understand that there is a lot of political apathy right now, but this not the time to bury our collective heads in the sand. This a time when we need to understand what is happening in the world, why and who benefits. It’s time to arm ourselves with the knowledge to uncover the ruling elites thinly veiled lies, to look outside of the mainstream media to get a good grasp of the situation. To enable further investigation, or to simply fill in the blanks, I have added varying links to prominent people or events, hopefully this will be useful to the reader who may be relatively new to some of these issues.

In this blog I have generally called the system of power in most western countries as neoliberalism, as described by David Harvey in his book of the same name. This system of ‘governance’ or in my opinion of control is generally referred to as capitalism in the mainstream, however, it bares no resemblance to the capitalism talked about by Adam Smith back in 1776. The current financial system we have in place is a system primarily credited to Milton Friedman and other economics Professors from the University of Chicago in the 50’s. It is this doctrine that I refer to as neoliberalism and it is this very system that we need to dismantle.

It is very noticeable that mainstream politics in western nations particularly in countries such as; the UK, US, New Zealand, Australia and Canada have all lurched to the right in the last two decades. It is noted that recent events in the UK, such as Jeremy Corbyn being elected as Labour leader and Justin Trudeau becoming the Canadian Prime Minister may have a leftist effect on these countries, but this remains to be seen. In general, however, most politics which is defined by the main parties as centrist are generally well to the right. It is even more alarming in the US, where there isn’t really anything tangible to choose between the two parties and both parties are heavily backed by corporations intent on having their ‘special interests’ met.

This system is primarily the cause of massive levels of inequality, that haven’t been seen in the western world since the great depression of the US in the 1930’s. Neoliberalism only works for the much publicised 1% and in reality it’s probably the 0.1% of the population particularly that benefit the most. This should come as no surprise as it’s this group that drives government policy and are the most active in rigging the game in their favour. Figures from a Guardian article in 2014 stated that the wealth of the 0.1% had risen from 7% in the mid to late 70’s to 22% of total wealth in the present day. Another depressing fact is in the US the aforementioned 0.1% have more wealth than the bottom 90% of society. Is it me or does just feel fundamentally wrong? It is even more heinous when you start to dig a little deeper, you begin to realise how far the ‘ruling class’ is prepared to go to seize and control as much power as possible.

It will come as no surprise that the ruling elite have always looked after their own interests any way they can and clearly this is not a new phenomenon. From an US perspective a good example of the beginnings of the current plutocracy would be , John D Rockefeller who founded Standard Oil and managed to turn his business into a monopoly. Rockefeller broke the backs of any union activity, most notably during the ‘Ludlow massacre’ in 1914. The National Guard in support of Rockefeller, in particular protecting the miners continuing to work during the strike, killed 15 women and children in a union organized tent city, which were assembled when striking miners lost their company homes. Rockefeller continued to amass his fortune whilst running roughshod over anyone who got in his way. In an attempt by the US government to dismantle his monopoly, Standard Oil was split up into 34 separate companies in 1911. Well known names such as Mobil, Exxon, Chevron were born out of this action. This move proved extremely profitable for Rockefeller, as he received proportionate shares in all 34 companies. At the time of his death in 1937 Rockefeller was reported to be worth $1.4 billion and was thought to be the first private citizen to accumulate such wealth.

A relevant entry point regarding US foreign policy in relation to securing US corporate interests would be Guatemala. President Jacobo Árbenz was democratically elected in 1950, he was determined to transform Guatemala into a modern self-reliant society. This did not sit well with the US and in particular the United Fruit Company. Árbenz was planning huge land reforms that would severely disrupt the United Fruit Company’s production as land in Guatemala accounted for one-quarter of the company’s land in Latin America at the time. The US took action, after the first attempt to overthrow Árbenz failed, President Eisenhower agreed a budget of $2.7 million to help overthrow the President of Guatemala. The CIA used tactics including; psychological warfare, political action and subversion. One key component was to try to convince the rest of the world that Árbenz’s government was aligned to the communists in the Soviet Union. This allegation was unfounded, as Árbenz was determined to construct a self-sufficient, capitalist state. The CIA’s plan for the coup d’état was successful and Árbenz resigned on June 27th 1954 and subsequently went into exile. Following this the US supported Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas and his army for the invasion of Guatemala from neighboring Honduras. It’s important to understand that the Director of CIA at the time was Allen Dulles, who was also a former President of the United Fruit Company (note a similar theme occurs when we look at Dick Cheney and Iraq). This coup plunged Guatemala into 40 years of civil war with over 150,000 victims over this period. This is a tactic that the US repeated all over Latin America with horrific consequences.

As we know due to recent events, this is not an isolated incident nor does it only exist in a historical context. As  Noam Chomsky has stated in numerous books, the US government have used a multitude of reasons for their interventionist foreign policy. During the ‘cold war’ they used the classic line that their actions were to halt the spread of communism.Is_this_tomorrow At the same time US households were also fed huge doses of propaganda for decades in the news and in popular culture depicting the Soviet Union as the evil empire. What the US was trying to deter rather than communism was what’s known as the ‘domino effect’ or the ‘good example’. The basic premise is; if one small country can strive to be a democratic and economically viable country, non-reliant on foreign business, this could possibly convince other countries to do the same. This would fly in the face of US corporate interest as the US exploited (and still do) the low wages that were paid in Latin America to increase profits. The ‘red threat’ cover wasn’t only used in Latin America, in Vietnam alone total deaths between 1965-1974 are conservatively estimated at 1.3 million people.

Sadly for the US when the Berlin Wall came down they had to change tack, but the US excuse makers in Washington were saved by Islam. After the tragic events of 911 to justify the Afghanistan invasion and the fabrication of weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s) to support military action in Iraq, the ‘war on terror’ was born. With an US population living in constant fear, helped along by the corporate propaganda machine stoking the fires of doom, this rather handily justified practically any action either home or abroad all in the name of security. The ‘War on Terror’ in my opinion has been a blatant attempt to secure rapidly depleting oil supplies in the Middle East and to increase profits for the corporations involved in the lucrative military industrial complex. Across all countries involved in the war it has cost an estimated 1.3 million lives, all under the absurd guise of democracy. It has also been used by the US government to bring in draconian ‘anti-terror’ measures under the name of Homeland Security, including torture to innocents and the destruction of civil liberties. Unsurprisingly the situation in the region is worse than ever and there is no end in sight.

In reality this has been a fantastic time for big profits for the US arms manufacturers, private security firms, the oil industry and of course the military, who have seen their budget sky-rocket year upon year. These corporations that do well generally have strong links with members of the US government, people such as former Vice President (2001-2009) Dick Cheney who was the CEO of the multinational corporation Halliburton from 1995-2000. If that sounds familiar, remember Allen Dulles earlier with the United Fruit Company? As of 2013 Halliburton had made approximately $39.5 billion on the back of the war in Iraq. Somehow the phrase ‘conflict of interest’ seems appropriate, however, this rarely applies to the ruling elite. These people continue to scratch each others backs, they make obscene amounts of money, whilst obtaining huge amounts of power and political influence. At the same time their catastrophic influence has inflicted abject misery on the doorstep of innocent civilians all over the world.

As a summary of foreign policy it seems appropriate to display how far the tentacles of empire have stretched under the dubious title of US foreign policy since 1950. It is also important to point out that in many cases, particularly more recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria, the US haven’t done this alone. They have certainly led the charge, but they are not without accomplices. The then Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair was more than happy to partake in the charade surrounding WMD’s. He then lied to gain the support of the British public so he and President George W Bush could have their war. Here is a list of countries that has experienced the wrath of the US since 1950;

  • Guatemala
  • Cuba
  • El Salvador
  • Honduras
  • Panama
  • Nicaragua
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Bolivia
  • Uruguay
  • Columbia
  • Haiti
  • Dominican Republic
  • Grenada
  • Congo
  • Libya
  • Somalia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Lebanon
  • Kuwait
  • Syria
  • Afghanistan
  • Pakistan
  • Korea
  • Vietnam
  • Laos
  • Cambodia

This is not an exhaustive list of countries that have experienced US involvement (either covert or overt) since 1950, but I thought 30 was a reasonable number to stop at. I suppose the next sensible question is; where does this fit with the neoliberalism that we experience in today’s society?

Firstly we are a planet of finite resources, however, neoliberalism relies on continual growth, where success of a country is measured generally by gross domestic product (GDP), which is frankly a crude economic measure. GDP is what the masses predominantly hear in the media as some sort ‘gold standard’ of success. This implies that each country has to keep growing incessantly, we therefore, start to associate an improved GDP with a favourable outcome for all. For one, continual growth in a finite world just doesn’t make sense, secondly there are many other ways to measure a country’s wellbeing other than GDP. In pursuit of continual growth the ruling elite, are taking more and more risks to secure ever dwindling resources. A few examples are; military action in the middle east (an obvious one), drilling in the Arctic and fracking.

These desperate measures have caused a huge amount deaths in the middle east, plus millions of displaced people, leading to a massive strain on other countries both morally and financially. The fossil fuel industry are now employing increasingly expensive and dangerous methods to keep the money flowing in. At the same time these huge corporations are pressuring governments to remain dependent on fossil fuels so the corporations can continue to wield ridiculous political power. All the while the planet we live on is becoming ever more vulnerable and climate change is not just going to disappear. In a meta analysis dated 2013, it was noted that amongst abstracts of journals that had a distinct position on climate change, 97.1% believed that climate change was a problem and that it was perpetuated by humans. As the recent United Nations climate change conference COP 21 demonstrated; if we allow climate change action to be organized by corporations and governments in their back pockets, no worthwhile solutions to our global problem will be forthcoming. I have no doubt that this is the biggest issue we face and that the ruling elite present the biggest roadblock for us if we are going to resolve the problem of climate change.

I will round this off by talking about a quite obvious problem with the neoliberal system and that issue is inequality. The recent headline that has emerged in the last week is that the 1% now have more wealth than the other 99%. The other startling fact is 62 of the richest people in the world have more combined wealth than the bottom 50% (3.5 billion people). In my eyes this is obscene, there is so much evidence to suggest that massive inequality is detrimental to everybody, including bizarrely the rich. Just a brief look on the internet at sites such as the equality trust indicates that severe inequality leads to poorer health outcomes, education, crime and general wellbeing. It’s time we started to arm ourselves with knowledge, look after our needs as a society and take the power back. We need a collectivist movement of compassion and humanity, not individualism and unabashed greed.

Can we destroy neoliberalism through our respective political systems? I hope so, but I must confess I am relatively pessimistic, due to the tight grip the ruling elite have on the political system. I tend to agree with the best-selling political writer Chris Hedges who thinks that real change will occur outside the current political arena. It is heartening, however, to see the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US. If nothing else this is a positive change in politics, maybe we can get away from the personalities in politics and talk about the important issues we are currently facing.

 

 

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