Friday, October 17, 2008
May The Money Changers Rot in HEll.......
Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman: the most overrated economist of the 20th century. In time, perhaps, even the University of Chicago will be embarrassed by its hagiographic treatment of such notorious intellectual prostitute. Like Kissinger, Friedman spent his professional and private life kissing the rump of the rich, and furnishing clever apologies for their reign of avarice and exploitation. They, in turn, elevated him to the maximum heights of adulation, fame, and influence. If nothing else, Friedman exemplifies the "treason of the intellectuals."
Perhaps the most striking fact revealed by the global financial crash - or rather, by the reaction to it - is the staggering, astonishing, gargantuan amount of money that the governments of the world have at their command.
In just a matter of days, we have seen literally trillions of dollars offered to the financial services sector by national treasuries and central banks across the globe. Britain alone has put $1 trillion at the disposal of the bankers, traders, lenders and speculators; and this has been surpassed by the total package of public money that Washington is shoveling into the financial furnaces of Wall Street and the banks. These radical efforts are being replicated on a slightly smaller scale in France, Germany, Italy, Russia and many other countries.
The effectiveness of this unprecedented transfer of wealth from ordinary citizens to the top tiers of the business world remains to be seen. It will certainly insulate the very rich from the consequences of their own greed and folly and fraud; but it is not at all clear how much these measures will shield the vast majority of people from the catastrophe that has been visited upon them by the elite.
But putting aside for a moment the actual intent, details and results of the global bailout offers, it is their very extent that shocks, and shows - in a stark, harsh, all-revealing light - the brutal disdain with which the national governments of the world's "leading democracies" have treated their own citizens for decades.
Beginning with Margaret Thatcher's election in 1979, government after government - and party after party - fell to the onslaught of an extremist faith: the narrow, blinkered fundamentalism of the "Chicago School of Economics." Epitomized by its patron saint, Milton Friedman, the rigid doctrine held that an unregulated market would always "correct" itself, because its workings are based on entirely rational and quantifiable principles. This was of course an absurdly reductive and savagely ignorant view of history, money and human nature; but because it flattered the rich and powerful, offering an "intellectual" justification for rapacious greed and ever-widening economic and social inequality, it was adopted as holy writ by the elite and promulgated as public policy.
Reagan and Thatcher implemented Friedman's economic savagery (gutting regulatory entities, easing the tax "burden" on corporations and the moneyed class, and emasculating labor) with enthusiasm and delight.
This radical cult - a kind of Bolshevism from above - took its strongest hold in the United States and Britain, and was then imposed on many weaker nations through the IMF-led "Washington Consensus" (more aptly named by Naomi Klein as the "Shock Doctrine"), with devastating and deadly results. (As in Yeltsin's Russia, for example, where life expectancy dropped precipitously and millions of people died premature deaths from poverty, illness, and despair.)
According to the cult, not only were markets to be freed from the constraints placed on them after the world-shattering effects of the Great Depression, but all public spending was to be slashed ruthlessly to the bone. (Although exceptions were always made for the Pentagon war machine.) After all, every dollar spent by a public entity on public services and amenities was a dollar taken away from the private wheeler-dealers who could more usefully employ it in increasing the wealth of the elite - who would then allow some of their vast profits to "trickle down" to the lower orders.
This was the cult that felled the governments of the United States and Britain (among others), as well as the Republican and Democratic parties, and the Conservative and Labour parties as well. And for almost thirty years, its ruthless doctrines have been put into practice. Regulation and oversight of financial markets were systematically stripped away or rendered toothless. Essential public services were sold off, for chump change, to corporate interests. Public spending on anything other than making war, threatening war and profiting from war was pared back or eliminated. Such public spending that did remain was forever under threat and derided, like the remnants of some pagan faith surviving in isolated backwaters.
Year after year, the ordinary citizens were told by their governments: we have no money to spend on your needs, on your communities, on your infrastructure, on your health, on your children, on your environment, on your quality of life. We can't do those kinds of things any more.
Of course, when talking amongst themselves, or with the believers in the think tanks, boardrooms - and editorial offices - the cultists would speak more plainly: we don't do those things anymore because we shouldn't do them, we don't want to do them, they are wrong, they are evil, they are outside the faith. But for the hoi polloi, the line was usually something like this: Budgets are tight, we must balance them (for a "balanced budget" is a core doctrine of the cult), we just can't afford all these luxuries, sorry about that.
But now, as the emptiness and falsity of the Chicago Economic cult stands nakedly revealed, even to some of its most faithful and fanatical adherents, we can see that this 30-year mantra by our governments has been a deliberate and outright lie. The money was there - billions and billions and billions of dollars of it, trillions of dollars of it. We can see it before our very eyes today - being whisked away from our public treasuries and showered upon the banks and the brokerages.