Neoliberalism on steroids: Common Dreams writers reflect on the political, economic, and social reality in the US

December 24, 2016

An excerpt from Common Dreams 20 Dec 2016 – see commentary from Joseph Stiglitz further down

…Analysing Trump’s shocking victory, professor Cornel West maintains that it represents the “desperate and xenophobic cry of human hearts for a way out from under the devastation of a disintegrating neoliberal order”. “It was the lethal fusion of economic insecurity and cultural scapegoating,” West explains, that has brought neoliberalism to its knees.

But is neoliberalism really on its knees?

The owner of a vast business empire, President-elect Trump is, more than anything else, a businessman. Not having one iota of political experience, he ran on an anti-politics ticket in which his business acumen was touted as a serious qualification for the presidency. Indeed, he promised to run the government like a business enterprise.

Trump’s cabinet picks suggest that, perhaps for once, he was not misleading the public. Talking neoliberal-speak, their rhetoric is uncannily familiar: privatisation, deregulation, capital enhancement, and entrepreneurialism.

The soon-to-be-Secretary of Education, Republican billionaire Betsy DeVos, for example, has been instrumental in deregulating Michigan’s charter schools. Not unlike the privatisation of prisons, in Michigan, around 80 percent of these schools are currently run by private companies.

Similarly, Tom Price, Trump’s pick for secretary of health and human services, wants to privatise healthcare reform, allowing “flexibility” while instituting dramatic changes to the tax code.

West is consequently wrong on this particular front. What we are likely to witness is not the end of, but rather a trumped-up version of, neoliberalism.

If, in the Barack Obama years, we saw neoliberalism intersect with a variety of progressive projects, such as marriage equality, in the coming years Americans will likely be subjected to a convergence between ethnonationalism and neoliberalism.

Nothing new

Actually, this convergence is nothing new. One has only to look at Israel, where since the mid-1980s neoliberalism has been thriving in conjunction with ethnonationalism and a colonial settler project.

West’s claim that hyper-nationalism, or even neo-fascism, will ultimately usher out our neoliberalism era, therefore, doesn’t ring true to people coming from my neck of the woods.

Over the years, we have witnessed how the Israeli government has effectively mobilised hyper-nationalism to further entrench neoliberalism, by harnessing hate towards Palestinians with the hope of deflecting and covering up the devastating repercussions that neoliberal economic policies have had on large segments of its Jewish citizenry.

Israel is also living proof that a country can create walls for certain “undesirables” while allowing capital to flow unhindered.

It would be a mistake, however, to understand neoliberalism as merely a set of economic policies. Rather, it is a regime of truth and value that construes all aspects of our world as business enterprises; even human beings are increasingly transformed into a kind of “human capital”.

In other words, under neoliberalism, we increasingly relate to ourselves as a resource in which we must invest in order to increase our value over time. In such a regime, only capital-enhancing subjects are worthy and only human capital that enhances the credit of the nation, now construed as a business enterprise, will thrive. This is precisely Trump’s dream for America.

Winners and losers

In a recent opinion article, Mike LeVine writes that “many working and middle-class whites [realise that the neoliberal era] is never going to produce the kinds of jobs and lives for which they have long felt entitled.”

Consequently, when Trump “gave them a choice between an ersatz multiracial democracy in which they are increasingly disadvantaged” or a vote for white privilege and supremacy, they voted for the latter. Well, they probably did not vote for neoliberalism, but neoliberalism is precisely what they are going to get.

Under neoliberalism as a regime of truth, inequality is legitimate because there are, simply and shamelessly, winners and losers.

Trump promised his voters that they would be the winners, mobilising white supremacy – alongside other hateful rhetoric, so that they would vote for him.

What he neglected to state is that neoliberalism flourishes in societies where the playing field is already stacked against various segments of society, and that it needs only a relatively small select group of capital-enhancing subjects, while everyone else is ultimately dispensable.

Trump’s ascendancy should not be seen as marking neoliberalism’s demise, but rather as ushering in its newest stage.

Indeed, what we are witnessing is the transmutation of a Clinton-Obama neoliberal order with its liberal rights-promoting veneer into a neoliberalism shorn of any trace of shame or guilt. This is truly neoliberalism on steroids.

From Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz

As US President-elect Donald Trump fills his cabinet, what have we learned about the likely direction and impact of his administration’s economic policy?

To be sure, enormous uncertainties remain. As in many other areas, Trump’s promises and statements on economic policy have been inconsistent. While he routinely accuses others of lying, many of his economic assertions and promises – indeed, his entire view of governance – seem worthy of Nazi Germany’s “big lie” propagandists.

Trump will take charge of an economy on a strongly upward trend, with third-quarter GDP growing at an impressive annual rate of 3.2% and unemployment at 4.6% in November. By contrast, when President Barack Obama took over in 2009, he inherited from George W. Bush an economy sinking into a deep recession. And, like Bush, Trump is yet another Republican president who will assume office despite losing the popular vote, only to pretend that he has a mandate to undertake extremist policies.

“There really is no silver lining to the cloud that now hangs over the US and the world.”

The only way Trump will square his promises of higher infrastructure and defense spending with large tax cuts and deficit reduction is a heavy dose of what used to be called voodoo economics. Decades of “cutting the fat” in government has left little to cut: federal government employment as a percentage of the population is lower today than it was in the era of small government under President Ronald Reagan some 30 years ago.

With so many former military officers serving in Trump’s cabinet or as advisers, even as Trump cozies up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and anchors an informal alliance of dictators and authoritarians around the world, it is likely that the US will spend more money on weapons that don’t work to use against enemies that don’t exist. If Trump’s health secretary succeeds in undoing the careful balancing act that underlies Obamacare, either costs will rise or services will deteriorate – most likely both.

During the campaign, Trump promised to get tough on executives who outsource American jobs. He is now holding up the news that the home heating and air conditioning manufacturer Carrier will keep some 800 jobs in my home state of Indiana as proof that his approach works. Yet the deal will cost taxpayers $7 million, and still allow Carrier to outsource 1,300 jobs to Mexico. This is not a sound industrial or economic policy, and it will do nothing to help raise wages or create good jobs across the country. It is an open invitation for a shakedown of the government by corporate executives seeking handouts.

Similarly, the increase in infrastructure spending is likely to be accomplished through tax credits, which will help hedge funds, but not America’s balance sheet: such programs’ long track record shows that they deliver little value for money. The cost to the public will be especially high in an era when the government can borrow at near-zero interest rates. If these private-public partnerships are like those elsewhere, the government will assume the risks, and the hedge funds will assume the profits.

The debate just eight years ago about “shovel-ready” infrastructure seems to be a distant memory. If Trump chooses shovel-ready projects, the long-term impact on productivity will be minimal; if he chooses real infrastructure, the short-term impact on economic growth will be minimal. And back-loaded stimulus has its own problems, unless it is managed extremely carefully.

If Trump’s pick for US Treasury Secretary, the Goldman Sachs and hedge-fund veteran Steven Mnuchin, is like others from his industry, the expertise he will bring to the job will be in tax avoidance, not constructing a well-designed tax system. The “good” news is that tax reform was inevitable, and was likely to be undertaken by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and his staff – giving the rich the less progressive, more capital-friendly tax system that Republicans have long sought. With the abolition of the estate tax, the Republicans would finally realize their long-held ambition of creating a dynastic plutocracy – a far cry from the “equality of opportunity” maxim the party once trumpeted.

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/12/20/bad-news-americas-workers

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation last week, former House speaker Newt Gingrich portrayed President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration as a historic moment for conservatism. “This is the third great effort to break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model” of government, he said, following the Reagan revolution” of the 1980s and Gingrich’s Contract with America in the 1990s.

Such a bold proclamation may sound peculiar after Trump’s fellow Republicans spent much of 2016 attacking him as a heretic who threatened the party’s commitment to right-wing policy orthodoxies. On the campaign trail, Trump explicitly disavowed cuts to safety-net programs that have long been a hallmark of the GOP agenda. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican, and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he pledged.

But as his administration takes shape, Trump is sending signals to the right that he is prepared to fulfill their wildest fantasies. With his sham populism giving way to shameless plutocracy, it appears increasingly likely that Trump will attempt to reverse more than the progress achieved over the past eight years under President Obama. The tremendous advances and reforms of the 20th century — from the New Deal to the Great Society — may be on the chopping block.

“The tremendous advances and reforms of the 20th century — from the New Deal to the Great Society — may be on the chopping block.”

So far, Trump’s Cabinet picks offer perhaps the clearest evidence of how he intends to govern and how much is really at stake. In addition to surrounding himself with billionaires, bankers and crony capitalists, Trump has nominated several candidates to run federal agencies whose functions they fundamentally oppose on ideological grounds. As Jamelle Bouie writes of Trump’s Cabinet in Slate, “It’s less a team for governing the country than a mechanism for dismantling its key institutions.”

Take his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is not just skeptical of “excessive” regulations; he is a climate change denier who’s been waging a legal war against the EPA. Health and Human Services nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) is not just a critic of the Affordable Care Act; he is openly opposed to what he calls “the federal government’s intrusion into medicine through Medicare.” Former Texas governor Rick Perry is not just underqualified to lead the Department of Energy; he famously wants to abolish it — when he can manage to remember the department’s name. (Notably, Perry has also called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal.”

Trump has also telegraphed his intention to smash organized labor and attack workers’ rights. His pick for labor secretary, fast-food executive Andy Puzder, is an outspoken enemy of minimum-wage increases with an appalling record of mistreating employees. The Labor Department has uncovered violations of labor laws in 60 percent of its investigations of Puzder’s restaurant chain locations. Indeed, as AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka recently said, Puzder’s career has been “defined by fighting against working people.”

Almost every legitimate function of the federal government could be subverted by Trump’s wrecking crew. Under billionaire Republican megadonor advocate Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education could be reoriented to gutting the nation’s public education system and redistributing its resources to for-profit charter schools. Led by attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — who once condemned the Voting Rights Act as “a piece of intrusive legislation” — the Justice Department can be expected to systematically undermine civil and voting rights, denying justice to millions of Americans in the process. And if longtime ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson is confirmed, even the State Department could fall prey to private-sector fetishization.

This troubling pattern among Trump’s nominees points to a clear overarching goal: stripping the federal government of its power, in nearly every arena, to strengthen the hand of private enterprise. For all the discussion of how Trump isn’t a “normal” politician, this has long been the fundamental purpose of right-wing conservatism. “The movement’s grand ambition — one can no longer say grandiose — is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally,” wrote the Nation correspondent William Greider in 2003. “That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal’s centralization.”

Trump certainly has characteristics — his authoritarian tendencies, his metastasizing conflicts of interest — that are novel in modern American politics and shouldn’t be normalized. But there is nothing novel about his administration’s emerging agenda of refighting old battles against well-established and popular government programs and outsourcing essential public functions to the private sector. Indeed, while Trump the candidate promised to blow up the establishment and usher in a new approach to politics, it seems Trump the president may simply offer more of the same thin gruel Republicans have served up for decades.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is an American editor and publisher. She is the editor, publisher, and part-owner of the magazine The Nation. She has been the magazine’s editor since 1995.  Cross-posted from http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/12/20/sham-populism-shameless-plutocracy

Steer Your Way Into Love and Resistance: The frightening truth that our society is a train hurtling toward an abyss must be faced.

“In the spirit of steering ahead, intent on building ties with diverse people from all corners of the world regarding multiple issues,” writes Kelly, “I hope the stance for peace and justice mentioned above will gain traction, raise discussions and help enlighten our collective future.” (Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, I’ve given daily thought to the more alarming aspects of Trump culture.  Conversations among friends have been quite helpful, both here in the U.S. and in far- away Kabul from which I recently returned.  It becomes hard to envision constructive responses to Trumpism without a steadfast focus on the larger culture which has made the policies of previous administrations seem acceptable and normal. This is part of why I was quite willing to sign the recently drafted “We Stand for Peace and Justice” statement. This morning I read comments about the statement that have been posted, online. It’s good to absorb criticisms and consider revisions. But a verse from Leonard Cohen also comes to mind:

Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

And more recently:

Steer your way through the ruins
Of the altar and the mall
Steer your way through the fables
Of creation and the fall
Steer your way past the palaces
That rise above the rot
Year by year
Month by month
Day by day
Thought by thought

In the spirit of steering ahead, intent on building ties with diverse people from all corners of the world regarding multiple issues, I hope the stance for peace and justice mentioned above will gain traction, raise discussions and help enlighten our collective future.

Here at Voices (vcnv.org) we’ve tried to better understand the call for diversity in our current, post-election context. Consider, for instance, a reflection by Betsy Leondar-Wright which was recently published in the UK based newspaper, Peace News. She encouraged people to build personal and political ties with people already targeted or potentially targeted by Trump’s campaign promises. “But,” she added, “we also need to reach out and build personal and political ties with those Trump voters who aren’t committed haters, but whose economic woes and worries we can empathize with.”

Describing such woes and worries, Arlie Russell Hochschild, speaks of a puzzling paradox in the U.S.: “Across the country, red states are poorer and have more teen mothers, more divorce, worse health, more obesity, more trauma-related deaths, more low-birth-weight babies, and lower school enrollment. On average, people in red states die five years earlier than people in blue states.”

Hochschild moved to Louisiana in order to live among avowed Tea Partiers. She remained there for five years, befriending people who consistently opposed government regulations that might ease their woes, lessen pollution and prevent record flooding in their state.

Reviewing her book, Nathaniel Rich writes: “Even the most ideologically driven zealots don’t want to drink poisoned water, inhale toxic gas, or become susceptible to record flooding. Yet southwestern Louisiana combines some of the nation’s most fervently antiregulatory voters with its most toxic environmental conditions. It is a center of climate change denial despite the fact that its coast faces the highest rate of sea-level rise on the planet.”

I read Nathaniel Rich’s essay, “Living in the Sacrifice Zone” while flying back to the U.S. from Kabul. Many people in Kabul could readily empathize with U.S. people living in toxic environs, lacking access to potable water, frustrated by joblessness, shut out of decent education, and likely to die at relatively young ages. Many are shocked by the lavish resources available to the U.S. military in Afghanistan compared to the desperation of 1.8 million Afghans now living as internally displaced people, some in refugee camps located just across the road from U.S. military bases.

While there, my young friends had asked me about the current population of the U.S. in relation to the total world population. The current population of the United States of America is 325,205,022, based on the latest United Nations estimates.

And the United States population is equivalent to 4.38% of the total world population. My young friends may be surprised to learn that U.S. people account for less than five percent of the world’s population but nevertheless create half of the globe’s solid waste.

Dave Tilford, reporting on U.S. consumption of resources, notes that “Americans consume far more natural resources and live much less sustainably than people from any other large country of the world.”

How do we get away with our reckless over-consumption? The U.S. has the world’s largest arsenal and an astonishingly high military budget. The U.S. congress just passed a bill authorizing the Department of Defense to spend 618 billion dollars in 2017, with more to come in future authorizations for next year.

It’s important for people to energetically unite in refusal to compromise with President-elect Trump’s terrifying campaign promises.  Yet we must also unite in refusal to compromise with wars and inequities that have already plagued our planet and species, under non-Trumpist Presidential administrations of both parties.  An essential question becomes:  How can people at last unite to tackle the very greatest terrors we face, the terrors of what, Trump or no Trump, we have been doing to our planet?

The frightening truth that our society is a train hurtling toward an abyss must be faced. We surely can’t expect leaders that have already made compromises with militarists and greedy corporate elites to stop the train, help people disembark and then pull up the tracks.  We must continually build alternative institutions and, as much as possible, stop paying for institutions that commit mayhem and murder.  We need unions willing to strike and activists willing to refuse payment of war taxes as I’ve been perhaps specially privileged to be able to do since 1980. We need voters able to see the full bleak vision of where our species has arrived.

I hope the “We Stand for Peace and Justice” statement will help groups form and build links through a larger movement, devoting daily activity and intense ongoing deliberation to lives built around active involvement addressing long-neglected issues. I hope a list of signers will rapidly grow, embracing increasing numbers of people in a commitment to honestly face and resist the genuinely dire prospect of environmental degradation, unceasing policies of war, prison profiteering, torture, and cruel income inequity “year by year, month by month, day by day, thought by thought.”

Kathy Kelly

Kathy Kelly ([email protected]) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).