L7 Neoliberalism

Tools For A New Political Economy

Why are right-libertarianism, market fundamentalism and the “neoliberal agenda” problematic?

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(Excerpts from Blurts & Spasms blog; see also the broader discussion of capitalism)

Neoliberalism has a simple aim: to consolidate as much wealth, self-serving social capital, and political power in the hands of as few people as possible — and ideally to the benefit of those who already have most power and wealth in society. This is the polar opposite of Level 7 proposals, which seek to diffuse and distribute and much wealth, collective social capital, and political power as possible. Neoliberalism claims to aim to remove all obstacles to a competitive market determining the outcome to. . .well. . .everything; that is, to establish what is important and valuable for all individuals and society itself via competing transactions. But this has never been the result of neoliberal policies. Instead, neoliberals have consistently implemented crony capitalism, so that government doesn’t just remove barriers to competition, but actually facilitates rent-seeking and wealth concentration on behalf of owner-shareholders. Regardless, prioritizing transactional relationships is the polar opposite of Level 7 proposals, which seek to establish value more holistically and relationally — so that transactions are not a driver of meaning and import in society, but a servant to the interpersonal relationships and collective debate that define what meaning and import can be.

As an overview, it is important to recognize that neoliberalism has many different — sometimes even competing — mechanisms to actualize strategic neoliberal objectives. These include everything from supply-side (“trickle-down”) tax cuts for the wealthy, to “structural adjustment policies” and other privatization of public goods, to austerity measures that eliminate government programs for the poor and working class, to deregulation of industry, to financialization of the economy. As a consequence, there can be a lot of hypocrisy and doublespeak involved, especially in the political sphere,
so we need to look at outcomes that illustrate actual objectives, not just stated philosophical goals. For example, Milton Friedman’s influence on Chili, the IMF, and the neoliberal movements in the UK and USA resulted in classic crony capitalist benefit to huge corporations — belying Friedman and the Chicago School’s promotion of self-regulation of markets and minimization of government intrusion. A more recent integration of economic nationalism and neoliberalism recently arose under the Trump administration in the U.S., resulting in a new form of clientism and mercantilism. And of course clientism and mercantilism were what Adam Smith, David Hume, Bernard Mandeville and others criticized and sought to remedy.

Beneath a striving for ideological orthodoxy behind a veil of right-libertarian market fundamentalism, neoliberal activities have always converged on the same thing in practice: engineered advantages for various industries and wealthy players that keep the economic gravy train moving smoothly for their shareholders and special interests. Therefore, so as not to get bogged down in the subtle differences between its various tactical approaches, it is helpful to focus on those overarching crony capitalist strategic objectives.
When we examine the observable outcomes of any particular policy, candidate, political platform, etc., then we can more clearly identify its neoliberal origins and agendas.

In the following paragraphs we will cover:
  • Primary Objectives of Neoliberalism: Crony Capitalism
  • Who are the Champions of Neoliberal Crony Capitalism?
  • Common Neoliberal Propaganda Tactics
  • Examples of Success of Neoliberal Agenda
  • How Ronald Reagan Revoking the “Fairness Doctrine” Aided both the Neoliberal Cause and Vladimir Putin
  • How “Libertarianism” was Co-Opted by Neoliberals in U.S.A.
  • The Evidence: The Global Disaster of Neoliberal Interference

Neoliberalism’s primary objectives include the following:

1. Weakening of governments, worker solidarity and rights, and legal systems to allow businesses to exploit labor and resources without regulatory controls or other constraints of law, with the aim of decreasing production costs, reducing legal liabilities and potential tort exposure, and facilitating unfettered capital mobility (across national borders, etc.). This ensures access to cheap, pliable labor, the carefree destruction and depletion of natural resources, and freedom from consequences for heinous disregard for human welfare and the natural world.

2. The dismantling and privatization of all social safety nets and socialized infrastructure — while at the same time disenfranchising poor and minority voters — so that the poor and marginalized become dependent on low-wage jobs and cannot afford the educational, investment or entrepreneurial opportunities to change their social position…or often even the basic necessities for survival. This allows the “owner-shareholder" class (traditionally older white men) to maintain their position of privilege in society, remove more and more services and civic infrastructure out of democratic control, and again exploit an endless pool of cheap, pliable labor while exhausting or destroying resources of the natural world.

3. Controlling capital flows and expanding profits by any means possible, including monopolization and creation of transnational megaconglomerates, aggressive
financialization of economies and controlling of financial institutions, interlocking directorates among the highest-revenue sectors of the global economy, expanding regulatory capture within national governments, increased militarism and war profiteering, and privatization and debt-enslavement of developing economies at a national level (IMF, World Bank, Eurogroup). The common objective is simple: maximizing wealth creation and transferring as much wealth and civic power as possible from everyone and everything else to the very rich.

4. The disguising of items #1-3 as "improving market and production efficiencies," “lifting the world out of poverty,” “letting markets solve complex problems,” or promoting "individual choice, individual liberty, and individual responsibility," when in reality the strategic neoliberal agenda only promotes such liberty and wealth for the plutocrats themselves, with efficiency improvements and market solutions benefitting the industries and capital they control. . .while creating ever greater social, political and economic inequities for the rest of society.

5. Endless propagandizing and spin around item #4 (a la Fox News, The National Review, Sinclair Broadcast Group, One America News Network, conservative talk shows, Breitbart, InfoWars, FrontPage, conservative think tanks, astroturfing, etc.) in the language of market fundamentalism, paired with dark money manipulation of the U.S. election process, as well as influencing State and Federal legislative agendas and judicial appointments. This propaganda often aims to manipulate the worker-consumer class to vote against its own expressed values and interests — and leads to ideologically compliant legislators and judges likewise passing and enforcing facilitative laws — so that neoliberal plutocrats can take more and more democratic power, rights and privileges away from everyone else with increasing ease. Another facet of this neoliberal propaganda is that it encourages complacency through a well-coordinated spectacle that distracts the public from recognizing or countering a neoliberal agenda. . .or even identify its champions and victims. And of course if that spectacle isn't sufficient to diffuse or undermine opposition, then an equally well-coordinated effort to incite conspiracy thinking comes into play that can more forcefully redirect public attention away from neoliberal culpability. The ongoing "culture war" is an excellent example of how neoliberals successfully distract ordinary folks from recognizing that every hoodwinked dollar and vote is just siphoning off their own political and economic strength.

6. Expanding the reach, capacities and “lawful” responsibilities of the national military, court system, and local law enforcement to a) wage perpetual “war” on anyone and anything perceived as a threat to neoliberal domestic and international objectives (examples being unions, civil rights protections and organizations, progressive politicians, factual information news, etc); b) villainize, suppress, coerce or incarcerate anyone who intends to disrupt aspects of the status quo that are beneficial to the neoliberal agenda; c) create perpetual distractions and scapegoats for the media to feed upon, so that “the man behind the curtain” (i.e. the neoliberal themselves) remains unnoticed or appears disconnected from the social and structural problems that neoliberalism creates.

And what is the overarching theme of these objectives? I think the last fifty years has proven it to be clear:

Essentially, it has been to use government to privatize and maximize benefits and profits, while socializing risks and costs. Neoliberalism funnels as much capital as possible — and as much control over capital as possible — into the hands of those who already have the greatest abundance of capital, and uses governmental institutions and policies to do it. At the same time, neoliberal efforts shift all of the risk and costs for sustaining these capital flows onto the shoulders of taxpayers. It is, essentially, the self-protective ideology of plutocrats who yearn for a return to a more absolute oligarchy, and this is what crony capitalism really represents, as it manipulates markets to serve the elite. This is also the central aim of the financialization of economies, where income is increasingly transferred from the real sector to financial instruments and institutions that leverage public debt for private profit, and all business decisions are governed by shareholder value maximization instead of the needs of consumers, workers, or communities where the businesses operate. In pursuit of this agenda, billions of people will understandably suffer in worsening poverty, while others will continue to be hoodwinked into sacrificing their own welfare and well-being to support “free trade.” This article helps outline how these objectives have been implemented through the IMF/World Bank: Structural Adjustment — A Major Cause of Poverty. And this documentary describes how wealthy neoliberal groups and individuals coopted Tea Party populism to advance their agenda: Billionaire’s Tea Party. Here is a helpful website about the perpetual gravy train of corporate subsidies (i.e. government welfare for the rich) that neoliberals always seem to support: https://www.goodjobsfirst.org/subsidy-tracker. Also consider perusing this Quora discussion regarding additional neoliberal strategies and influence: Do the "virtual parliaments" as Noam Chomsky describes them actually exist?

In this context, it is staggering to consider how far neoliberalism has diverged from its roots in classical liberalism, completely abandoning any promotion or protection of civil liberties in favor of social Darwinism, and instead encouraging the enslavement of the worker-consumer to corporate overlords. Adam Smith is certainly turning over in his grave. . . .

Who are the champions of neoliberal crony capitalism?

When we see proposals, advocacy, media, research or statistics sourced from any of the following organizations, we often find they are being used to support of neoliberal agenda:

  • Atlantic Bridge
  • Heritage Foundation
  • Cato Institute
  • American Enterprise Institute
  • Business Roundtable
  • Analysis Research Corporation
  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
  • State Policy Network (SPN - formerly Madison Group)
  • Heartland Institute
  • George C. Marshall Institute
  • Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute
  • Judicial Watch
  • Federalist Society
  • Claremont Institute
  • Americans for Prosperity
  • Institute for Justice
  • Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
  • Americans for Tax Reform
  • Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives
  • Center for Individual Rights
  • Pacific Legal Foundation
  • Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI)
  • National Association of Scholars
  • Hudson Institute
  • Mises Institute
  • Bradley Foundation

Of critical importance is understanding just how much money is involved in promoting the neoliberal agenda. Although there are also progressive-leaning special interest groups, think tanks, lobbyists, etc., they are much more diffused and tend to promote more specialized interests. In contrast, nearly all of the organizations above are marching to the exact same drum. So much so that, on any given issue, neoliberal advocates outspend progressives anywhere from 10:1 to 100:1. Although much attention is given to key neoliberal players like the
Koch brothers and the Mercer family, the reality is that the funds brought to bear are a carefully coordinated aggregate of hundreds of conservative millionaires, billionaires and large corporations (see the graphic illustration on the Science Skepticism page for an example of this process).

As for the thought leaders, advocates and political champions most frequently referenced by neoliberals, that is also a fairly vast array, and with many subtle differences. However, we can include the following in the mix of influential thinkers and advocates (some of whom are also discussed in further detail later in this page):

  • Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, Friedrich Hayek and the Austrian School
  • James M. Buchanon and the Virginia School
  • Milton Friedman, Eugene Fama, Robert Fogel, George Stigler and the Chicago School
  • Milton Friedman and Arnold Harberger’s students, “The Chicago Boys”
  • Ayn Rand
  • Robert Nozick
  • Highly selective excerpts of Adam Smith, John Locke, David Hume, Bernard Mandeville, Robert Malthus, David Ricardo, and other contributors to classical liberalism. (For example, there is rarely any mention of Smith’s concerns about the corrosive power of monopolies, or Smith’s insistence on the need for “good government” to rein in business; or his warnings to rein in “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind: all for ourselves and nothing for other people.”)
  • Lewis Powell (read his infamous 1971 confidential memorandum on the “Attack of the Free Enterprise System”)
  • Joseph Coors, Edwin Meese III and Thomas Roe
  • Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Alan Greenspan
  • Charles and David Koch
  • Robert Mercer
  • Newt Gingrich, John Sununu, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Irving Kristol, Richard Perle, Antonin Scalia, Danielle Pletka
  • Bill Clinton (nominally a neoliberal in socially liberal clothing)
  • Karl Rove
  • Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld
  • Ron Paul and Paul Ryan (as examples of neoliberals in right-libertarian clothing — see further discussion below)
  • Greg Mankiw and Jordan Peterson (examples of neoliberal evangelists in academia)
  • Steve Bannon and Donald Trump (offering new variations of neoliberal themes — concealing the neoliberal agenda beneath a manipulative veneer of populism, economic nationalism and conspiracy theories, while appointing members of the Heritage Foundation, etc. to key positions in their administration.)

Common neoliberal propaganda tactics

Neoliberal propaganda tends to combine potent tribalistic, class conscious, sociological and economic components, including:

  • Arguing that “safeguarding and expanding individual freedom” is somehow equivalent to unregulated markets and business activities, eliminating all social safety nets, ever-enlarging private property rights, and aggressively rolling back taxes - while in fact the only beneficiaries of such laissez-faire political activism are the wealthiest corporate owner-shareholders.
  • Propagating fictional narratives that invert the traditional views of exploitation and victimization, then funding highly biased “research” by neoliberal think tanks which seems to support the narrative. Examples of such inversions include white people in the U.S. being victimized by “institutionalized reverse racism” due to civil rights laws; or that the wealthy are being exploited by poor people who feel “entitled” to wealthy people’s money via social welfare programs; or that Christians are being persecuted and oppressed by a secular State; or that corporations are “people” with human rights, and that corporate money equals protected free speech; or that democracy is a form of “mob rule” that oppresses the elite minority; and so on.
  • Coopting traditional socially conservative themes to serve neoliberal aims — themes such as anti-abortion, fear-mongering around racial stereotypes, demonization of “liberals” and progressive civic institutions, pro-Judeo-Christian rhetoric, anti-immigrant and racial prejudice, and resistance to change.
  • Populist, nationalistic sentiments that amplify the “Us vs. Them” polemics of fear — insisting that 2nd Amendment rights, Constitutional originalism, State’s rights, pro-military loyalism, religious freedoms, economic freedom and so forth are aggressively opposed by progressive ideals and champions, which conspire to take it all away from hard-working white folks.
  • Diversion of blame for economic hardship and cultural frustration for its most supportive constituencies away from the real causes (that is, away from neoliberal/market fundamentalist economic policies) to convenient red herring distractions like climate change denial, abuses and inefficiencies of social safety nets, anti-intellectualism, skepticism of science, the failures of government bureaucracy, national security and terrorism fears, Islamophobia, xenophobia, patriotic pride and duty, breakdown of the nuclear family, atheism..and many other boogeymen.
  • Advocating potent neoliberal concepts as “always true or always successful,” when in fact they are either substantially false, or routinely fail. These include Supply Side economics; market fundamentalism; austerity measures; capitalist systems being “morally neutral;” capitalism being the natural state of human beings (and private property being a “natural right”); regulations and taxes always being counterproductive; wealth production always being more important than negative externalities; “greed is good;” government always being wasteful and inefficient; the best innovation always being provided via market competition; etc.
  • Perpetuation of an enthralling, distracting and infantilizing spectacle to help grease the wheels of a neoliberal agenda.
  • Systematically attacking and defunding any civic institutions or public programs that reinforce positive feelings about government, or which effectively help citizens regardless of their means or influence. Thus the US Postal Service, Medicare, Head Start, Obamacare, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, FHA Loan programs, Food & Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control, Financial Aid for Students, FEMA, National Parks…and a long list of other beneficial services must be enfeebled, bad-mouthed and disrupted as quickly as possible to prevent them generating any warm fuzzy feelings toward government among the populace.
  • Aggressive demonization of every individual or collective form of power, influence or agency that disrupts or delays the neoliberal agenda — and especially anything smacking of “progressive” or left-leaning ideology. This includes all forms of direct democracy; all forms of representative government; the institutions and lawful mechanisms of civil society itself that protect civil rights, human rights, consumer protections, and worker protections; any scientific evidence that interferes with profit; a free press; accurate and truthful information in the public discourse and news media; accurate and truthful information in the education system; and any individuals or institutions that promote critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making.
  • Interestingly, within the past few years, neoliberal pundits have increasingly also been trying to negate the term “neoliberal” itself — claiming it to be overly broad, or somehow contradictory, or otherwise unsuited to defining the specific flavor of market fundamentalist crony capitalism that neoliberals tend to promote. This attack on the language of neoliberalism’s critics is, I think, just one more way to discredit or undermine what have clearly been valid critiques.

Philosophically, I consider neoliberal ideology to be the natural intersection of commercialist-imperialist corporatism and individualistic economic materialism, and the proud grandchild of feudalism and mercantilism, as all of these propaganda points seem to flow out of those antiquated ideological positions. What makes the neoliberal movement even more alarming is that it shares many of the same objectives — and employs many of the same techniques — promoted by fascists, nationalists, dictators, and despots. We can even observe that current information warfare seems to coordinate the agendas of neoliberal propaganda and authoritarian disinformation campaigns.

Examples of the success of the neoliberal agenda in the U.S.A. under the G.W. Bush administration are listed below. Many similar tactics and policies were employed under Ronald Reagan, and are being repeated again under Donald Trump.

1. Disabling the EPA’s enforcement of environmental law for eight years (via direct executive order and more indirect hogtying of administrative processes) allowed runaway corporate pollution and untold environmental damage from business activities.

2. Weakening of NIOSH oversight across all industries resulted in a runaway increase of risk to worker health and safety - and consequent death, illness and disability of countless workers as regulations went unenforced.

3. Opening up of BLM lands to unchecked exploitation by industry resulted in horrific destruction and misuse of these public resources, with very little benefit to U.S. taxpayers (who collectively own those resources).

4. Initiating a war on false pretenses resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people — including thousands of U.S. military personnel; war profiteering of U.S. companies at the expense of U.S. taxpayers; creation of ISIS (under very similar circumstances through which Al-Qaeda was formed); destabilization of Middle East and radicalization of its populations; strengthening of the position and influence of enemy states (Iran); undermining of U.S. standing among allied governments and populace.

5. Increased financialization of U.S. economy (and encouragement of speculative risks using public funds) while loosening the regulatory reigns (SEC oversight, etc.), resulting in the most precipitous economic crash since 1929.

6. Orchestrating propaganda that encouraged some 50% of the U.S. electorate to vote against its own interests (i.e. cutting of federal spending in their geographic regions, increased income inequality, increased poverty, decreased economic mobility, decreased jobs, stagnant wages, decreased buying power, etc.).

7. As a classic consequence of crony capitalism, the largest jump in government spending (to 33% of GDP, with most of the increase benefitting big business and wealthy shareholders) since WWII.

8. The radical erosion of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment and establishment of invasive, coercive, unjust, punitive and ideologically extreme expansions of a Police State.

9. The dismantling and distortion of U.S. democratic institutions, civilian protections and environmental protections through a targeted appointment of activist neoliberal judiciary that baldly favors corporate empowerment and enrichment at the expense of everyone and everything else (for example, the five SCOTUS judges that ruled in favor of Citizens United were appointed by George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush).

10. Perpetuating below-subsistence wage workers (i.e. Walmart employees) that are subsidized with taxpayer-funded welfare programs, once again enriching corporations at the expense of everyone else.

11. A general weakening of all capacities of government to serve its citizens, apparently with the deliberate aim of undermining the confidence those citizens have in their government and increase their willingness to vote for candidates who promise lower taxes and alternative “free market” solutions that enrich owner-shareholders.

12. Widespread “
revolving door” appointments — that is, appointing lobbyists or industry leaders in a given industry to government positions with oversight for that industry, who then returned to similar lobbying or industry positions once they left government. Examples include appointing Linda Fisher from Monsanto to the EPA (2001); Dick Cheney engineering no-bid war profiteering for his former employer Halliburton; Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson appointed Secretary of the Treasury (2006); Faryar Shizad (also from Goldman Sachs) as White House economic advisor (2003-2006); and many more. In the opposite direction, some 24 Cabinet members took high-paying industry position after serving in the Bush administration. (It should be noted that the revolving door has been present in every U.S. administration of the past several decades, with the George W. Bush administration topping the list with 1028 “revolvers.”)

To fully appreciate just how bad things can get under neoliberal ideology, consider reading about Milton Friedman’s influence on other governments around the globe (a readable discussion of this is Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine) and the “structural adjustment” policies of the IMF and World Bank in developing countries — also informed by “The Chicago Boys.” For more on all the fun stuff that happened under G.W. Bush, focus on pro-corporate SCOTUS rulings, expansion of A.L.E.C. legislative influence, the revolving door of government, regulatory capture, clientism, campaign finance corruption and the explosion of SuperPACs and dark money, corporate welfare, war profiteering, Red State government spending, origins of ISIS, coal mining safety violations, timber industry expansions into BLM, coopting of Tea Party by Koch brothers, impact of Patriot Act and Homeland Security on U.S. civil liberties, environmental destruction and exploitation, wealth disparity, FEMA failures (due to incompetent appointments), the USPS retirement prefunding fiasco of 2006, etc. It’s really rather incredible how much damage was done, and why voting carefully in presidential and congressional elections is much more important than naysayers from all corners of the political spectrum would have us believe.

It should also be noted that although the Republican Party has primarily driven neoliberal agendas in the U.S., Democratic administrations and legislative efforts have also contributed. The most consequential being those championed by Bill Clinton and the "New Democrats," things like the North American Free Trade agreement, Welfare to Work, charter schools, and Empowerment Zones. Here is an excellent overview of this shift from promoting strong civil society to favoring market-based solutions:
Bill Clinton Did More to Sell Neoliberalism than Milton Friedman.

How Ronald Reagan Revoking the “Fairness Doctrine” Aided both the Neoliberal Cause and Vladimir Putin

Reagan’s recision of the Fairness Doctrine had huge and enduring consequences regarding news media and information delivery in the U.S.…and the action was not “inevitable” as some have suggested.

Consider the Fairness Doctrine terms “honest, equitable and balanced,” and then consider how the Fairness Doctrine applied those to “controversial matters” that were in the public’s interest to report. This is the heart of the Fairness Doctrine: to inform U.S. citizens in a balanced way regarding diverse perspectives around critical issues. The spirit of the Fairness Doctrine was to prevent biased or misleading journalism and media coverage, and to represent as many different perspectives on a given issue as possible — and especially opposing viewpoints — as fairly as possible. In essence, this was an effort to discourage propaganda in U.S. media that served private agendas. Propaganda is often, after all, simply reporting one side of a given issue.

You’ll notice that other answers so far completely leave this critical point out.

Now, why did the FCC revoke the Fairness Doctrine? The Reagan administration framed the revocation under “concerns about free speech;” in other words, that the FCC’s continued enforcement could potentially interfere with some forms of free speech in media (there was no evidence that this was the case, only that this could be a concern). Even if such concerns had been validated, this simply would have required additional legislation to refine the Fairness Doctrine from Congress — but such worries are completely and utterly contradicted by the subsequent explosion of alternative media platforms (cable TV, Internet streaming, etc.). Do you see the problem with some of the other answers now…? If the main concern about the Fairness Doctrine (from conservatives at the time) was really impingement of free speech, how could “the Fairness Doctrine being outdated” due to a plethora of alternative media platforms also be a central consideration…? This is a duplicitous ruse. We know this because there is ALSO the issue of the 1986 SCOTUS ruling that affirmed the FCC’s ability to enforce the Fairness Doctrine on teletext technology…opening the door for its application to other media platforms as well. We can even speculate that this expansion of FCC authority over newly emerging media stoked efforts by conservatives to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine completely.

Now, it is important to appreciate that Congress DID update the Fairness Doctrine, at the time of its revocation, to address some of these issues…but Reagan vetoed that legislation anyway. So, in reality, conservatives just didn’t like the way the Fairness Doctrine was being applied by the FCC, or how Fairness Doctrine cases had played out in the courts, or how it was already being applied to future information technologies. THAT is the real reason conservatives wanted it gone. Why? Well, not only did the Fairness Doctrine dampen neoliberal propaganda efforts, it also did not allow conservatives to restrict progressive opinions being broadcast on publicly funded media (like NPR/PBS) when conservatives controlled the FCC (this was decided in the 1984 SCOTUS ruling FCC v. League of Women Voters of California.) In other words: the Fairness Doctrine was useless to conservatives who wanted to promote their own agenda while suppressing progressive ideologies…and they just could not stand for that.

And what has happened since? Propaganda has taken over conservative for-profit media, and conservatives have both doggedly sought to defund publicly funded non-profit media, and to disallow the FCC to regulate ANY media with fairness in mind. For example, the latest repeal of Net Neutrality by a conservative-controlled FCC is completely consistent with such efforts — why not let corporations decide who gets access to what and when? Neoliberals simply do not want there to be “honest, equitable and balanced” coverage of controversial issues — not even if propaganda is being funded by Russia on Facebook or Twitter! They believe “the market” can and should determine all outcomes — in other words, whoever has the most money to begin with, or who can most effectively deceive and manipulate people, should determine what information is available to the public.

So. . .again, WHY are conservatives so concerned about the consumers and voters having access to good, balanced information? Well, we’ve seen exactly why over the intervening years since the Fairness Doctrine was revoked:
  • The Oil & Gas industry doesn’t want you to know about the realities of climate change.
  • The Pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want you to know how dangerous and/or ineffective their drugs actually are.
  • The Tobacco industry doesn’t want you to know about the real health risks of tobacco and vaping.
  • The wealthiest owner-shareholders don’t want you to know that trickle-down economics has never, ever worked — and that economic nationalism won’t ever bring certain jobs back to the U.S.A. — but that conservative economic policies instead enrich only those wealthy few.
  • Evangelical Christians don’t want you to know that Planned Parenthood is a much more effective way to prevent abortions than outlawing abortions has ever been.
  • The Firearms industry doesn’t wan’t you to have statistics about just how lethal their products actually are — or how rarely those weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens actually prevent crime.
  • (And so on with all sorts of other vested interests: agriculture, petrochemicals, insurance, financial institutions, etc.)

You see the pattern? There is a tremendous amount of money at stake — and the underpinnings of tribal belief systems along with it. Facts, evidence and statistics almost universally undermine conservative positions…so why would conservatives EVER wan’t news and information media to really be “honest, equitable and balanced?”

So…what happened? Well, if you do some research on this you’ll see that ALL conservative news media is, in fact, not just heavily biased towards supporting untruths, they are also more prone to deliberate counterfactual reporting, sometimes even fabricating stories that support neoliberal agendas and a conservative worldview. In contrast, left-leaning media can indeed be biased, but doesn’t approach the level of deceptive misinformation and outright lies that are perpetrated by right-leaning media. And so, as with any democracy, the quality of information that a voting population has is going to determine the quality of politicians they elect, and the agendas that are moved forward in government. Which is how we’ve arrived at a Trump presidency and Republican Party that is so woefully disconnected from reality — to a degree that is clearly harmful to the well-being of citizens in the U.S. and around the globe. And this is what Reagan’s revoking the Fairness Doctrine and blocking its revision by Congress has gifted to the American people and the world.

Lastly, in addition to helping neoliberal propaganda efforts, ending the Fairness Doctrine has also helped even more nefarious efforts — such as the “active measures” of Russian intelligence — to distort public information and perception as well. It is more than a little ironic that Ronald Reagan, champion of anti-Soviet rhetoric and disruption of the Soviet Union itself, was single-handedly responsible for the ability of an ex-KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, to directly manipulate the American public today. See the link below for more on that.

Here are some resources I would recommend to more thoroughly understand and navigate these issues:
How has (Tea Party) Libertarianism become conflated with or gobbled up by anarcho-capitalism and laissez-faire capitalism in the U.S.A.?

This is a great question and the answer is relatively simple (in hindsight at least). Basically the capture of libertarianism by pro-capitalist fanatics in the U.S.A. resulted from the intersection (and resulting muddled conflation) of several distinct ideological threads that were carefully crafted into a “populist” movement over time:

1. Locke’s views on natural rights and property ownership.

2. Jefferson’s advocacy of small government.

3. A strong tradition of American individualism (Emerson, Tucker) and economic materialism (Veblen’s conspicuous consumption).

4. The Austrian School and the reworking of classical liberalism by Mises, Hayek, etc.

5. Milton Friedman and the Chicago School.

6. The objectivism of Ayn Rand.

7. Murray Rothbard’s authoritative expansion of non-aggression into property.

8. Robert Nozick’s countering of John Rawls.

9. The modern architects and proponents of neoliberalism (see discussion in previous sections).

From Locke we obtain the assertion that humanity’s natural state - and corresponding natural law - centers around a self-preservation and non-interference in the affairs of others, and a property ownership and accumulation via labor appropriation. From Jefferson we have the famously mis-attributed “that government is best which governs least,” which isn’t actually Jefferson, but does seem to encapsulate important Jeffersonian sentiments. From Tucker we have a strong infusion of egoistic nihilism and the seeds of mistakenly equating “freedom” with atomistic personal agency. From Mises and Hayek we glean a hatred of egalitarian and collectivist thinking that interferes with market capitalism in any way, a devoted (albeit irrational and non-empirical) promotion of individual choice as the sole driver of all sound economics, and an obsession with systemic efficiencies. From Milton Friedman we garner a lifelong propaganda and lobbying campaign to rid America of all Keynsian government intervention in corporate profiteering, a global advancement of the concept of “economic freedom” that facilitates the same, and perhaps the very birth of a faux “populist” libertarianism that he and his pal Stigler engineered.

From Ayn Rand we get a passionate defense of atomistic individualism, vaulted egotism and rapacious materialism. From Rothbard we have a zealously religious conviction that property is an extension of one’s person, and that the non-aggression principle thus applies to all property as an unquestionable article of faith. Nozick then provided an eloquent and extensive libertarian argument for a minimal State, whose main purpose should be to facilitate free exchange between individuals, and an equally eloquent argument regarding why taxation of any kind equates slavery (i.e. is a violation of self-ownership). Others along the way, such as Robert Paul Wolff, amplified radical autonomy and the “rationality” of market solutions. Seizing on this snowballing tangle of individualistic materialism, modern neoliberal architects then created a scripted perpetuation of all-of-the-above in vaunted, self-righteous rhetoric — with folks like Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, John Sununu, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Steve Bannon and Donald Trump gaining actual positions of power; folks like the Koch brothers and Mercer family funding political influence, campaigns and neoliberal propaganda behind the scenes; and lobbying groups like ALEC and SPN orchestrating pro-corporate agendas across federal and state legislatures.

Mix all of these ingredients together, and the result is a uniquely American “right-libertarianism” or “anarcho-capitalism” that appears to be populist in nature, but is actually consciously engineered and propagated to facilitate ever-increasing consolidation of corporate power. Some have even labeled this thread of American libertarian thought proprietarianism, and point out the irony that proprietarians will decry the oppressive coercion of the State, but reflexively ignore the same behaviors in corporations as they rabidly promote market fundamentalism.

To reiterate, all of this “populist libertarianism” is really picking-and-choosing supportive aspects of past ideas, according to a distinctly individualistic and materialistic worldview, to facilitate corporate power within cronyist, clientist State capitalism even as it decries the “coercive force” of the State. It is really no different than a particular denomination of some religion selectively excerpting scriptures to support their particular dogma. If we revisit Locke, for example, we see that his “natural law” includes the duty to preserve and protect others, be charitable to those in need, and praise and honor God - but we don’t find these particular components in right-libertarian thinking. Jefferson warned against an aristocracy of bankers, merchants and manufacturers gaining too much power - though often misquoted (and thereby often incurring dismissal), this sentiment is as prevalent in Jefferson’s writing as it is neglected by right-libertarians. Tucker was vociferously opposed to rent-seeking (which he called “usury”) and the Four Monopolies of money, land, tariffs and patents. If we examine Milton Friedman’s vociferous and successful advocacy of monetarism, together with his equally hypocritical promotion of “shock doctrine” corporatism, we see his clear preference for using powerful government institutions and leadership, in concert with private monopolies, to coercively force national economies to align with his vaunted ideals - a glaring contradiction to many of his professed beliefs, and also an aspect of Friedman’s legacy that is overlooked in right-libertarian thinking.

Ayn Rand of course completely rejected “anarcho-capitalism” as non-representative of objectivist thinking - also something few right-libertarians appreciate (in fact the Mises Institute has had a real fondness for quoting her). Nozick was ultimately critical of Lockean acquisition, and concluded that the non-aggression principle and unfettered markets logically result in both corporate monopolies and contractual slavery (which he saw as a productive outcome, paralleling the functions of a Welfare State…but, amazingly, somehow to be arrived at voluntarily, without coercion…despite the fact that freedom is thereby crippled by both odious obligation and extinguished choice!). And of course the propaganda of modern champions of “smaller government” has been persistently contradicted by their actions - Reagan’s increases in both federal taxation and spending, Cheney’s war profiteering, Paul Ryan’s never-ending campaign to eliminate women’s reproductive rights, the Koch brothers enriching themselves through government manipulation, etc. And although right-libertarians do sense some of these contradictions, rather ironically they just can’t seem to let go of conformist ideological groupthink, and continue to swallow the plutocrats’ “Libertarian” propaganda that really just ends up empowering wealthy corporate shareholders at the expense of workers, consumers, voters, women, those living in poverty, the sick, the elderly, the environment…and most of the Tea Party rank-and-file.

Lastly, I’ll briefly touch on some core issues with right-libertarianism that illustrate a problematic departure from non-American forms of libertarian thought (see
150 Years of Libertarian):

  • Apart from everyone living in individual isolation, liberty only exists in the context of civil society. There must be social agreement about the standards of liberty for it to function in routine human relations - let alone in a heavily abstracted exchange economy. This is a simple fact that could be countered by an expectation of advanced moral function (i.e. transcending self-interest), but individualistic materialism (especially as manifested in modern commercialism) has so far encouraged a lowest-common-denominator approach to moral function — a toddlerization of moral faculties. In this respect, capitalism is fundamentally at odds with the libertarian frame.

  • Right-libertarians most often address this issue by relying on individuals as “rational actors” who create mutually beneficial outcomes by promoting their own best interests in competition with others. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this has ever been the case in the real world, and plentiful evidence (in behavioral economics research, the history of corporate malfeasance, and the latest neuropsychology) to contradict it - which is why the Austrian School is still the laughing stock of mainstream economists, and why Ayn Rand’s “objective” understanding of human behavior has been viewed as muddled, naive and woefully incomplete by decades of philosophers and psychologists.

  • Further along these same lines, we cannot differentiate economic equality from equality of liberty (i.e. from individual or collective agency). To do so is intellectually dishonest — because concentrations of wealth always result in concentrations of influence and/or formalized political power. There is simply no precedent for real-world situations unfolding differently (whether government is involved or not). Because of this, liberty is always negatively impacted by economic inequality, which becomes de facto coercion. This is an inescapable truth, and is perhaps best illustrated both the consequences of natural monopolies throughout history, and by Nozick’s theoretical elaboration on the inevitability of “voluntary slavery” in laissez-faire environments.

  • The Lockean projection of person into property (via labor or any other activity) is not only arbitrary and capricious, but also isn’t a standard evidenced by hunter-gatherer societies as Locke assumed and in fact used to support his hypothesis. In reality, the opposite is true: hunter-gatherer societies have routinely held almost everything in common (when things are treated as property at all).

  • In the same vein, the tragedy of the commons is simply a thought experiment gone awry. As Elinor Ostrom carefully documented over years of research, Common Pool Resource Management has been a spontaneous, organic, self-directed alternative to State or private ownership that functions exceedingly well.

  • The aristocracy disruptive to democracy that Jefferson foresaw has occurred, not just because corporations were empowered by the State (cronyism/clientism/corporatism), but because concentrations of wealth inherently create concentrations of power. All the way back to Aristotle this has been a central concern in any democracy, and the demonstrations of plutocratic corrosion throughout history are indisputable. The most tenable left-libertarian solutions therefore operationalize collectivist, egalitarian approaches facilitated by consensus democracy, the principle of subsidiarity, and the attenuation of private property in favor of the commons. There really isn’t another way around this problem — certainly not anything proposed by right-libertarians.
The Evidence: The Global Disaster of Neoliberal Interference

Everywhere neoliberal policies have been implemented, they have visited terrible long-term results on national economies and their populations — particularly the poor. Take the example of what Milton Friedman called “the miracle of Chile,” where Augusto Pinochet was influenced by Friedman and his Chicago School students:

  1. Unemployment first increased to 14%. . .then to 20%.
  2. Sub-poverty population increased from 20% to 40%.
  3. Real wages fell by 20%.
  4. National output initially fell by 15% and then only ever leveled out (never got above pre 1970 levels)
  5. Per capita GDP grew only 1.5%/year, as compared to several times that nearly everywhere else in Latin America.
  6. Well-paying, working-class jobs evaporated (i.e. income disparity increased across population due to a “hole in the middle”)
  7. Inflation reduced from 500% to 10% (really the only good thing that happened, economically, as a consequence of neoliberal policies)
  8. A handful of folks got really rich.

As you can see, there really wasn’t any “miracle” at all. And the biggest substantive advancement — the democratic reforms in Chile that Friedman often took credit for — were actually a consequence of the military junta’s decision to get rid of a murderously oppressive Pinochet whom Friedman had so joyfully aided, and had little if anything do with neoliberal policy.

Here are some discussions of the many other negative impacts of neoliberalism around the globe:

  1. Spiraling wealth inequality in developing world that resulted from IMF “structural adjustment policies” developed by Friedman’s Chicago Boys.
  2. Staggering increases in poverty and wealth inequality, with virtually zero mitigation of the steady declines in manufacturing and overall wages of the working class, as a consequence of austerity measures under neoliberal leaders like Margaret Thatcher.
  3. Reducing taxes on the wealthy (“supply-side”/“trickle-down” neoliberal economics) really didn’t help anyone else in society — at all — and never results in the increased investment in businesses and job creation that supply-siders like to promote. In fact, supply-side routinely results in a decoupling of real median income and economic productivity.
  4. The financialization of major developed economies (which can be framed as a neoliberal approach to rent-seeking) has also had a devastating effect on every other sector of wealth creation.
  5. On the whole, deregulation of industry has done much more harm than good, allowing increases in corporate profits at the expense of irreparable damage to the environment, workers rights, consumer health, human lives, job growth, and economic mobility.

In essence, there just isn’t any upside to neoliberal policies and politics — unless you’re already wealthy, or are one of a tiny minority of owner-shareholder beneficiaries.

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