Why I Am Not a (Neo)Liberal
Why I Am Not a (Neo)Liberal
On March 6, 1927 Bertrand Russell gave a talk entitled “Why I Am Not a Christian”, which was later published as an, highly influential and very recommendable, opuscule (ISBN 0-671-20323-1).
I always wanted to write a book and call it “Why I Am not a Liberal”. Well, somebody could say I am in fact pretty liberal regarding my life and morals, but that is not the point. When I say I am not a liberal I am referring to the political and economic doctrine known as liberalism and, more specifically, to neo-liberalism, which, to a certain extent, is in fact quite a different thing.
Well, of course, the problem here is that, not being an economist, it would be quite hard for me writing an entire book on the subject, which would certainly be a worthless piece of work anyway. Therefore, it may come as a relief for you to learn that, thanks gods, such a book will never come to existence, or, at least, not having my name among the authors. All I can offer you is this call-it-what-you-better-please.
At this point, someone could be thinking that the first sentence is completely unconnected, except for the structure of the tittle, to the matter of this essay and thus this must be another example of vain pseudo-erudition just to show that the author of this lines is acquainted with the work of the British philosopher. However, I believe and will try to demonstrate here that this is not exactly the case. I do find a connection between neo-liberalism and religion and I have christened this connection with the apparently paradoxical name of “magical dogmatism”. Paradoxical, you have guessed it, because how comes that liberalism, being itself so intrinsically liberal, can be at the same time and at once “magical” and “dogmatic”? I will try to explain.
Neo-liberalism is a doctrine which is based upon the assumption of the existence of an abstract notion, being, body or entity called “The Market”. Up to here there is nothing to object, since the concept of market can be as useful an interpretative category as any other. The problem with categories comes when one tries to push their boundaries too far, to such an extent that a given category is no longer an interpretative tool but becomes something more like a dogma of faith. And that is exactly what happens to the market as soon as one starts to assign magical attributes to it.
Thus, from a (neo)liberal point of view the market has a number of magical features the most remarkable of which consists on being “self-regulatory”. This magical property makes of a “free” market a system in perfect equilibrium governed by mysterious and yet scientific laws which are like some sort of nature forces continuously acting to restore balance. The legend goes on by telling us that a market is such a perfect a system that just one thing on earth can induce severe and harmful unbalance. The name of this evil is of course “public intervention”.
Without the evil forces of public intervention acting upon it, the freed market, and therefore the world, would be a perfect system. Yes, the world, because the second most remarkable magical attribute of the market is that if it is happy and healthy the entire world (each and everyone of us) will also be happy and healthy. Wouldn’t it be nice?
This tale would be a beautiful one if it was not because it has been empirically contradicted a large number of times. Evil forces would tend to claim that this contradiction is in fact noticeable virtually every day. But, of course, evil forces are evil and they are always trying to mislead people.
What really happens, according to neoliberal believers, is that the market has never been allowed to operate freely because the evil forces of public intervention are always acting upon it at different levels. These interferences generate unbalance in the market and this unbalance has the awful consequences on world’s happiness we can notice just by reading the news or checking the state of our savings account.
The most recent example of this contradiction is the financial crisis we are just going through. But, hold on a second, this crisis has been palliated by means of public intervention, just by injecting billions of public funds into the private finance system. Well, always according to the doctrine elaborated by the neoliberal priests, this was the fair thing to do. Because if the evil public intervention is guilty of constantly generating unbalance, public intervention should help to correct the consequences of its own sins. “Les Etats sont comme des pompiers qui doivent éteindre les incendies puis rentrer dans leurs casernes” in the words of Philippe Manière.
Neoliberal dogmas nowadays implicitly or explicitly impregnate almost every economic analysis. Even criticism coming from the left wing is more and more often a mystification between well known left-wing dogmas and common places and neoliberal dogmas.
Those few who are still intellectually reluctant to the influx of neoliberalism tend to consider those magical characteristics or attributes in the neoliberal concept of market just as ideological constructs. Ideological construct lacking any empirical support or intellectual rigour whatsoever. For the large corporations, it is just a convenient doctrine in which they neither believe nor practice but preach to and enforce upon others because these dogmas serve well their interests. For the rest of us, it is just a ridiculous form of superstition as any other.
Rational planning is a direct consequence of the ability of anticipating the future based upon probabilities and extrapolations. Any living being tries to anticipate the future and makes plans as far as it is allowed by the complexity of its brain.
We do plan our education, we plan our careers, we plan our retirement, we plan our family, we plan our investments, we even plan our free time. A scientist carefully plans his experiments in the laboratory. And, as we plan, we have to establish priorities and so we say this objective is more important, this is less important, this is an absolute priority, I can live without B but not without A, etc.
Companies and large corporations are not an exception to the rule. They probably do more plannings than any other entity. When they say they are against public intervention it is not entirely true. What they mean is just that they want the Government to obey and serve their interest blindly and without questioning, but they do not want the Government to have its own agenda if this agenda it is in contraction with the objectives of the corporate system. However, often it happens that the interests of the public, the interests of the majority, are in fact in contradiction with the interests of the corporate system. Whose interests should then the Government serve? Whose interests are they actually serving?
In a democracy, the role of the Government should be to regulate the economy and the market for the benefit of the most. Pragmatism and rationalism, not dogmatism should guide its action.
There are not absolute values. The market is not self-regulated, it needs to be regulated (without asphyxiating private initiative). What is good for the market (we are now using market as as synonym of the corporate system, just as they do) is not always good for the citizen. Private property is not always better than public property (we are contradicting here the third foundational dogma of neoliberalism). What is good today may not be good tomorrow. What is good for country A may not be good for country B.
We have to regulate the economy according to our good sense, scientific principles, rigorous intellectual analysis and our own priorities. Neither right-wing nor left-wing dogmatism is going to help us. To this respect, neoliberalism is nowadays the most harmful economical and political superstition (if only, because it is the most widespread). In this regard, the policies progressively enforced by the European Commission, a non-democratic institution, upon the Member States are being particularly damaging.
We can not trust the market because, like God, it does not really exist such a thing (and even if it existed it was not going not help us). What it exist is just private interest (profit) which is sometimes in contradiction with public interest (welfare). Therefore, the market will not manage what is really important fur us better than we, the public, can do it. For instance, for me, health care should be public, education should be public, pensions should be public. We are progressively loosing control on all this and we need to fight to regain it.