by Andrew McKillop
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°1: HOMO ECONOMICUS THE ECONOMIC MAN
Today’s neoliberals put a nice spin on their version of what their forefathers scribbled about in the Classic Times before Ron Reagan or Maggie T were even thought about. Long before that awful Marx and wimpish Keynes got their heresies on paper. Those slogan-a-second 1980s fireballs were into the Great Truths of the Natural Order created by that ceaseless quest of Economic Man for more pleasure and less pain. Nothing else counted then, or counts today. Relative truths are a whole different kettle of kippers, they added real fast, the truths you hear on the TV which tell you have it a whole lot better today than say 5, 10 or 20 years ago. Everything is better because Economic Man came to his senses. Rejoice!
Great Truths are forever, said those 1980s fireballs. Intellectually, they reached their peak around 1850 and, if you care to stop the scientific clock around that date, you can adduce or hijack a few nicely-selected scientific half-truths (half-lies with a short half-life) to prop up the neoliberal vision of a great level playfield on which Homo Economicus does his footwork. At the time, in those long-dead 1980s, we were a long way from today, where grope has replaced pure vision. Where the looming Final Energy Crisis along the Hubbert fossil fuel extinction curve advises us out loud that the last person quitting wont even have to turn the light off. And in economics, too, we have drifted far away from those luminous, bright-burning times. Like the Hubble constant, the drift rates is fastest at the edge of the exploded Neoliberal Galaxy.
But, back in those luminous 80s almost any flower show opened by Great Leader Ron or the Iron Lady was the time and place for an impassioned 3-minute landmark speech on the New Order and the New (at the time) Economy. These speeches always fingered those squeaky-flat playfields, with knee-jerk yahoo calls to the delirious crowd of cheering supporters for the only Good Sense possible: Economic Man had to get out on that field and play! Naturally, and selectionally only a few would come out winners, nearly all the rest would lose, even their lives, but this selfless behavior, due to self-full greed or fear, is the only thing separating us from apes. Or from turkeys who would pay $ 40 for a barrel of oil when all you have to do is be firm, and use smart missiles. The crowd was ecstatic for that one! Bullfights in Spain or Ancient Rome’s prizefights between Christians and Godzilla creatures (tigers for example) were almost equally crowd savvy.
Science notions that interested 19th C liberals were those which reached fever pitch around the time of Darwin’s return from a 5-year cruise in the South Seas. He reported unbelievable things and constructed amazing theories that had editorialists, clergymen and a safe while later economists buzzing. Darwin found out that humans are descended from apes, not Gods, and that along the road from apeland to the human jungle Nature was rough and tough. Especially with losers. Nature was red in tooth and claw, but not in politics where she was blue, even very dark midnight blue. Only the finest were, very rigorously, selected to be rich and famous – thought and said liberals of the 1850s and neoliberals of the 1980s. Curiously, Darwin himself made no folksy sci-fi analogies from geological eras spanning millions of years, and the question of which members of the Homo Economicus clan get rich fast, slow or never.
This mattered little to 19th C liberals, whose doctrine was already 250 years old, and less than nothing to their gung-ho lookalikes of the 1980s. These latter knew, maybe in their DNA strands, that natural selection takes place on the market playfield which, though scrupulously flat, always rolls the cash and power to the pockets at the right (even far right) end. Midfield players are low ranking clan members. Like a Sicilian or Highland clan player they have a way of kicking low, infighting and backbiting in a way that makes you think they prefer hurting their kin when they can, and others only when they must, collateral damage style. Libs and neolibs had the scientific answer to this behavioral conundrum: Homo Economicus is a natural brute only seeking more pleasure and less pain. If you give him or her plenty of stick, and just a bit of carrot, and tilt the playfield the right way at all times, then this brute can become almost civilized in a few hundred or thousand years. Up to that point its best to have a bulletproof lectern, like the Great Ron or the Iron Lady.
Nicely-frozen mid-19th C science notions offered all kinds of marvelous explanations for what neoliberal stormtroopers were setting out to do, back in the long-dead 1980s. The dawn of atomic and nuclear science, but long before those messy ideas on entropy and uncertainty, offered a crop of killer slogans and gee-whiz one-liners for both 19th C neolibs and their 1980s progeniture basking under the sun lamps of a late-night TV chatshow studio. Homo Economicus was like a billiard ball in cyberspace, a freeflowing ion in an electric field. Out on that correctly tilted playfield he only needed a nudge to predictably trundle towards personal pleasure, and away from pain. With the electroshock added by cattle prod neoliberal policy gadgets he was going to speed up and get a whole lot less flaky. From the 1980s on, roared the Great Leader and the Mad Fishwife, this Economic Man would get pleasure from treading his neighbors, his friends, his family even, into the dirt if it gave him a few, even one extra McDo a week. The 1980s Economic Man was a real rival to Godzilla, but the voters went wacky for this kind of Hit-Me-Again mindwarp. The 1980s were a time of cultural implosion and loss of reference frames in Western societies, it is believed.
Defenders of the Natural Order found this a cozy vision indeed. It warmed the cockles of their pacemakers the same way an extra million jobless would send yuppie bourse players into a humid ecstasy, cranking bourse numbers into the stratosphere and taking some profits off the top. The Human Atom out there on that electronic playing field was now rational and predictable, with no irrational twists. Uncertainty was something further along in history – and why not say that History died in (say) 1903, when Liberalism had so much going for it, and was going to give the world the Versailles treaty, the great German Inflation, and the rise of Hitler – along with Lenin and Keynes?
Neolibs of the 1980s weren’t interested in flaky things like that – they had the key to consumer behavior and voting performance. The cardboard cutout ‘personality’ of Economic Man, for them, had been defined one last and definitive time. This was all hunky dory, 1980s neolib firebrands thought – those sheep out there in front of their TV screens gulping down 2-minute landmark speeches crafted with more skill than a Goebbels number weren’t interested in, and too stupid to understand that those well-chosen science nostrums from mid to late 19th C greats had themselves been blasted off the big screen. Mechanics, physics, biology and even psychology were soon going to get a whole lot more complicated – if you started at 1900 and worked forward instead of back. The then waning school of Classic Libs was going to soon be out of luck when casting round for science notions seeming to prop up their dusty, misanthropic, cartoon cutout snapshot of humanity. At the time, and just like the firebrand neolibs of the 1980s, the greats faded fast, and back to their ivory towers, or down in the subground floors of bombproof think thanks, and waited for that Stable State.
But it never came and never will! The waiting was short around 1900-1920, and even shorter around 1980-2000. The would-be science of economic behavior had promised a smooth-running economic machine made from Economic Man cogwheels whirring along predictably, seeking only to satisfy personal greed while avoiding all responsibility and/or pain. This monster would not have time, or even the mental capacity to do glorious things like fight World Wars for strange (to him) causes, or even serious and useful wars like the Gulf War the Great Leader’s chosen sidekick cooked up with a few European friends to destroy oil production capacity and ensure future price explosions. This monster would also be absolutely incapable of playing bourse trades, going on strike, having no kids at all, getting interested by or even thinking about ecology, consuming less when his scrabbling brought in a few more shekels. Not only Economic Man was out to lunch, but also non-economic reality in the world went off the radar screen. More than ever the world had military adventures (for great causes), whipsaw boom-bust bourse cycles, and Great Men like generals, field marshals, politicians, saints and TV anchormen who gave a rather sure impression of not caring a damn for the Stable State.
Great Leaders, especially the Great Ron and Mrs Faggot, now had to be loved as well as respected and obeyed. This cost money in round-the-clock advertising and marketing, communication, publicity and flowershows. Being great these leaders craved for stirring military adventure – if only to turn the tiny minds of Economic Man monsters behind their TV screens away from the nightly list of collapsed industries, extra jobless and higher bourse numbers. Just like their 19th C forerunners, the 1980s greats needed tax money to pay for the shows, while economizing all they could on junk spending for health or education, unemployment insurance or public transport, in their sincere wish to recreate 19th C urban no-go zones, soup kitchens, tuberculosis epidemics – and the finest of them all, the AIDS pandemic, which at first, the anchormen told us, only affected queers who dont vote for Single Party politics and economics. Those wunnerful 1980s greats had read some history, dozens of pages, and each page recounted stirring feats by their 19th C heroes. There had been glorious scraps for Boer Gold, for Persian Oil, to carve up China and Africa, and the show had peaked with the Russian Revolution and World War 1. At the same time those former greats had cranked up and maintained trade and currency wars against almost anybody, anyplace. It had been a bubbling champagne glassful of beautiful ideas, that is policies, for Ron and Maggy the Merde. Why cant we do that again today – We must do that again today!
Tax was back – funny thing it had never disappeared. Instructions were crafted and drafted by Great Analysts as to how new taxes could be gouged while old taxes were reduced, even eliminated, in speech after speech. Economic Man, they were certain, first existed and second was 100% gullible. He would pay while rip-roaring for more Freedom, Stability, Strong Money, and near nightly fireside chats as Great Communicators explained why they needed a little smart missile fun someplace. There really was No Alternative, bet your life the 1980s was the most closed-in tunnel vision decade of the century.
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°2: THE MARKET WILL DECIDE
Leaning forward at their lectern, eyes popping with surreal sincerity, the voice pitched low but with an impassioned edge – just like their media consultants advised – Great Leaders of the 1980s delivered a punchline that never failed to get an ovation from the finely selected, right (even far right) audience. Like a police academy, yuppie traders dinner binge, flowershow or morticians convention. The Market was going to decide, rejoice! Exactly what market and which product or service didnt matter too much, and was rarely croaked out in those near-religious group therapy sessions, it was left to TV chatshow hosts to work that lode of fascinating Good Sense.
And captains of New Industry, that is paper finance bubble empires, were going to provide chapter and verse. They were going to electrify markets, like Lenin had electrified rural areas. This was New Economic Policy. Not so long after this announcement, the Thatcher half of the Dynamic Duo decreed what level of choice the riffraff, consumers, workers and suchlike would have in all this. Those who cannot accept the Decision of The Market, she noted rather ecstatically, will go to the wall. Or have one fall on them, or at least something pretty spooky unless they got the new message 20/20. As might be supposed the best and finest had already got the message, nay were even born with that message in their stem cells (we must recall that, in the 1980s, genetic engineering potentials were vastly inferior to those of today; making a Dolly2 or Hot Sister of Thatcher was not envisageable). Primal and natural selection had already designed them to flow with the near-invisible tilt on that Flat Playing Field. Right into the pockets at the right (even far right) end. Vibrating harmoniously with pals scribbling weighty editorials and scripts for TV chatshows the medias took the neolib slogan packs and ran. It was just so marvelous and complete, there was a slogan to explain almost anything, and especially why entire industries had to be imploded, public monopolies had to be sold off to private monopolies, economic growth had to be much less than zero, and unemployment out of the roof. Formerly, in the Bad Times when most persons had a job markets had been in bondage, but there was no alternative to Freedom, God had willed.
Decisions made by the market were final, provided it received the right signals and players in it sent back a nice flow of campaign contributions to pay the wall-to-wall PR needed to prop up the neoliberal wave, and keep Great Leaders great. This was all hunky dory as the masterplan, but with zero or worse economic growth contributions started flagging almost from the start. It was naturally from market forces, themselves, that the solution came. Privatized monopolies playing oligopolistic tunes could crank up prices for their market-conscious products and services as they junked thousands of employees in the dirt. The sheep, in front of their TV screens gulping down Good Sense, would be pleased to pay more for almost anything, thus contributing to campaign funds – what cybernetics calls a high gain positive feedback loop was soon in place to ensure perennity for the only good sense possible. It was a wonderful victory, paying endless-seeming gravy train rides for this week’s favorite Economic Guru with a killer theory feeding dozens of 3-minute landmark speeches. Gurus usually proved within 1 minute 30 seconds that The Market is imbued with the Holy Spirit, and even in some cases with petroleum resources at $2.50 the barrel and interest rates (market triggered) of up to 22% the year in the USA and 4000% in Less Great nations.
This was a Euro-American doctrinal fest that flipped back and fro the Atlantic, ratcheting up the hysteria each time around. In Europe, where state or related corporations had grown, provided jobs and services, been accountable and become part of daily life, neolib market forces decided an orgy of wipe-outs, closedowns and takeovers by New Men with 200-year-old economic ideas. Try as they would, however, these shrilly sung heroes had problems measuring up to the Napoleonic heights of what High Priestess Thatcher and High Priest Ronnie wanted, needed, craved and dreamed about. Just for a start, Ron needed some $ 300 Billion a year to keep Pentagon gravy train riders puffing along that curve to the Ultimate Weapon and be able to fight wars in Outer Space. With a downsized economy it would have been logical to maybe train up Kung Fu fighters with wooden flails or name the B2 for a high speed Zeppelin, but neoliberalism and logic are perfect antonyms. So, not so long after the first wave, PR gurus advised the Great Leaders to react to market forces and mellow back into the shadows, play marathon golf matches, and above all listen to the bomb-and-circuses advice coming from those deep underground Think Tank bunkers.
Around then end of the decade, as Ron had regrettably been unable to take a third term, and as the Fish Lady was soon to be axed in a bizarre inner sanctum cabal, they started talking funny. Thatcher, for example, explained that neoliberalism was ‘concerned’ about whales getting stuck in erratic iceberg movement due to global warming, but that this was ‘fundamentally’ due to overpopulation (not referring to her own existence). And market forces had all kinds of clever responses to this, ranging from Snuff Movies, where young down and out unemployeds were raped then murdered on screen, to the glorious war for penguin resources on the Falkland Islands. As is well known in Britain, Argentineans are completely incapable of caring for penguin resources. Ron first organized the liberation of a major nutmeg exporting country (for just a few billion dollars) and then cut more and more expanded polystyrene ‘logs’ with his chainsaw while helping his prodigy, Father of W, to understand the subtle intelligence of voodoo economics. And cook up a real clean oil war.
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°3: CORE BUSINESS
Everyone knows the core business of politicians: staying in power, preferably forever. Great neoliberals, as you might guess, went a whole lot further, back in those long-lost 1980s. They were in power to right historic wrongs, save mankind from socialist bondage and restore the Natural Order. Consequently it was absolutely necessary they stay on the gravy train for the rest of time, which was made all the easier because History, very simply, was dead or at least according to a yuppie professor who crawled out the woodwork one day.
At the origin, core business was one of the Deep Thoughts which popped up in the slogan pack the Great Leaders used to bamboozle voters back in those times before Dolly the Sheep. Great Leaders of that era not only wanted, but sincerely needed to be rich so they could pay the fantastic PR circus which kept them in power. Their pals, captains of industry rollicking with the waves of market forces, were equally sincere in their greed. And they had problems the Greats had problems understanding – for example Lesser Races of Japanese and Koreans who were bashing metal, plastic and electrons in a way that wasn’t cricket.
The answer, of course, was core business, and New Economics was there to square the circle, prove that black is white and that oil and gas reserves are – quite simply – unlimited. Core business was discovered in hi tech research labs probing the frontiers of knowledge, in business management that is, and gave a print out of what the Future would be. Yes, it was a nice-colored blip on a trading screen playing the coming electronic trading economy. The rest was yucky, archaic and voted Left, so it didn’t exist. Leading edge business profs rushed to print 600-page blockbusters proving that, in fact, core business had flashed, a few milliseconds, in Ricardo’s crystal ball, or that Darwin himself had seen it engraved on the back of an iguana’s tail in some primal swamp south of Miami.
Unbelievers predicted, and not a few million sheep found out what core business meant in the unreal world beyond those bulletproof lecterns. It meant the rich got richer and the poor got tax hikes or lost their jobs. Within months of the arrival of neoliberalism’s Great Duo, back in those near forgotten 1980s, captains of New Industry (that is paper trading empires) honed their daily routine to perfection. Any good and progressive day’s trading on those squeaky flat market playing fields would start with a list of how many jobs had been axed in the corporation – to keep the yuppie traders grinning, panting and blathering. The outfit, after this sacrificial bloodletting, would instantly be lean, mean and competitive, at least against rivals from Botswana.
Neoliberal mollahs, soothsayers and TV anchorpersons defending the Right Causes were of course ecstatic at this breakthrough in savoir faire based on pioneering knowledge only about 250 years old. By rigorously adopting core business captains of paper industry would stay rich, take mollahs out to free lunches and pay into campaign funds of the Great Leaders. Enough cash would be left over to run the newspeak media blitzkrieg needed to repress Bad Thoughts, in endless waves of propaganda that pumped and vibrated like the endless wave of paper economy index hikes generated by the New Economy. Great Leaders, taking the ovations and accolades right on cue and with quiet dignity, could go back to their own core business – spouting, playing golf and cranking up small, telegenic wars some place that not only thrilled nighttime TV voyeurs but made free-lunching generals feel loved and admired. And kept the arms biz humming.
Through the real neoliberal recession of 1980-83, or the paper recovery of 1984-87 core business restructuring was more popular, homier than apple pie. Dawn raiders, white knights and hostile takeover artists of the Bubble Economy vied with each other to smash Rust Belt industries and drive millions out of their jobs. Only misfits could be so unmannered and churlish as to talk aboutstructural unemployment, trade deficits or inflation fireballs to come – being uninspired such riffraff had not understood that there was no future because History was dead. So there.
Unfortunately the reality byte of boom-slump was going to bite deep into to the cozy fat of the new neoliberal empire. A problem had occurred, so deep and complicated that professors using Cray computers could only sputter incoherent half phrases in those deep-ground policy center bunker debriefings. Downsizing companies to peanut-size paper holdings was real fun until the last productive employee got his ticket not for a gravy train ride but for a crawl to the nearest job center or soup kitchen. After the last of the dirt was cleaned out, nice people found to their consternation, only core gurus and trading screen players were left behind – along with a few packers of goods imported from E and SE Asia, and naturally those chauffeurs for the Captains of Industry. Sucked out hulk ‘industries’ were totally unable to react to those famous market signals, for example when, after 5 years of bloodletting, it again became respectable to recruit and employ persons. New demand for consumer goods had to come from imports. It was therefore necessary to infiltrate, undermine and leach out all value from these new rivals in Asia, unable to play the game (golf, cricket, pocket billiards, as you wish). This came later on in the policy wave, under the heading Strong Money.
At first, around 1987-88, Great Leaders welcomed their second real recession. After all, they surmised, exploding trade deficits, company failures and unemployment had wafted them to eternal power, back in those early 80s when a photo of US Embassy hostages in Kabul could be used to defend, explain and even make gung-ho popular the destruction of entire industries. When the crankiest, wackiest deadbeat economic nostrum, like the rightly-called ‘Laughter Curve’ could be sold to fast-talking but oh, so intelligent talkshow hosts and editorialists, explaining to the sheep why tax breaks are only for the richest of the rich. But a paper landslide followed the real economy slide – a few years growth in post-neoliberal downsized economies always ends in a riot of trade deficit and inflation. Ronnie’s lectern, and the animal were physically relocated to Wall Street, in late 1987, to talk back the waves of paper wipeout lapping the holiest shrine of neoliberalism. Maggie was dragged from pre-retirement (or canonization) to moan that restructuring must go on, no core business is a no go, like plenty of streets in Belfast city.
Sadly for them, the late 80s didn’t work out like the early. Yuppies, surely, kept on whining platitudes on TV chatshows explaining why they needed a Ferrari while average persons needed the soup kitchen, but media overkill had taken place, already a long while before. Generals, too, had a sneaking suspicion they were no longer admired and respected, and were damn sure not going to take early retirement to chop plastic logs in California or simper on very late-night TV shows. They had plans. Those small-scale telegenic wars in Somalia, the Falklands, Grenada or Cambodia had whetted their collective id. What they now, though secretly wanted were core wars, real sturm und drang, preferably with a New Economy angle, and certainly as a showcase for all those Ultimate Weapons (the one cleaner and more precise than the other) their boffins had cooked up for a few dozen million dollars This also was going to come, later. We are still in the formative genesis of neoliberalism, its fine flowering Springtime era, as 200-year-old liberal economics nostrums were genetically fused with 350-year-old monetarist nostrums, and sold by a pair of huckster politicians to the so-called ‘middle class intelligentsia’ of the rich, overfed, fossil-fuelled societies whose life expectancy is that of fossil fuels: maybe 35 years. Back in the early 80s it was 55 years, and everyone in such societies knows you are a has-been (unless you’re a Prime Minister or President) at that very advanced age. But heroic generals of the right (even far right) thinking world had a posthumous policy win on the Great Leaders. Hard core bombs and circuses are what the washed and unhuddled masses want to gob from their nighttime TV shows, in leading edge, highly-educated modern society. Marie Antoinette, bless her cute thighs, had thought that just bread and circuses were needed to assuage The Mob. By the 1980s it was clear that only bombs and circuses suffice for the acme of Human Civilization, the soon-to-die Western consumer
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°4: STABILITY
Since the gee-whiz return from nowhere of 18th and 19th Century political-economic ideas, values, gizmos, gadgets and mindwarp, all bundled up nice and sold like soap powder or hamburgers to grumbling richworld voters from about 1978, the Final Target of this flirt with pure atavism was always Stability. The stable state, stasis, security, safety, the words jumped off the teleprompter under Big Ron’s or Maggie the T’s bulletproof lectern to swooning, near ecstatic, well-chosen audiences. As you can guess, back in the days before Britney Spears, the mass media market campaign soon drowned the product with hype, rocketing The Message into far-off worlds of pure illusion. Pretty soon after the newspeak campaign began, to burn-in Stability as the why and whereall of a modern hi-tech society, the sheep began to lose their handle on what it all meant. Some confused it with Star Wars, others thought it had something to do with the dollar, or chopping plastic logs in California with 52 bodyguards. And not so very long after that, by the late 80s, their voting behavior (almost unbelievably, to Great Leaders and their courtesans) followed the same wipeout curve. Sheep began to shop around between the dogfood and detergents, the parties and programs, with the same gay, shrill labels outside and the same mess inside.
What exactly was or is ‘stability’ ? Back in the fiery early 80s, and even more so when they were natural candidates for glory, the Dynamic Duo tub-thumped, harangued, blathered, eye-popped hundreds of 3-minute landmark speeches with Stability as the desirable end result of their fantastic neoliberal experience. It was usually wrapped as no inflation, strong money, and a bulldozer-leveled market playfield for private enterprising freedom loving citizens to trundle around. Now Ron and the Fishwife had remarkably educated advisers and speechwriters who had read dozens of pages on this or that star guru or economic philosopher from way, way back. Finding the chapter and verse on what stability means, is, and will be right now in the 1980s is as simple as plugging slogan sequence N° 9 in the teleprompter. Ron and Maguey liked giving long, even 5-minute speeches to select opinion formers and VIPs, for example award ceremonies at police academies, dinners for visiting Olympic wrestling teams, bankers’ conventions and suchlike. In these hushed, semi-private forums for highly intellectual audiences the speeches, and the slogan sequence would swell out somewhat.
Yes! New stability is old stability and not even of the 19th Century kind. It comes from fantastically far back, even before the birth of either Ronnie Reagan or Milton Friedman or Adam Smith. Real stability, pedigree stability had been detected in Antiquity, at least 2000 years back. While neoliberals, especially the loud-mouthed yuppie version, rarely fingered this zone of history as the one they had to recreate like a scene out of E.T., knowing this would be hard to sell to the sheep as just the most squeaky clean modern thing you could imagine. But Greeks and Romans at around Zero AD threw up nice images of a stable state, and larding a speechlet with 3 Latin or 2 Ancient Greek words guaranteed a rapturous frisson in those hushed, highly-intellectual group therapy sessions. Sadly for the gullible, and like the whole neoliberal experiment, the hype/reality ratio was extravagant. Greek and then Roman civilization, like any other, exploded in economic and geopolitical crisis. Antique stability, if it had existed, didn’t last long.
Facts and nostrums, however, have no problem at all coexisting in the minds of well-paid speechwriters: they are interchangeable. It was a nice idea that Romans or Ancient Greeks somehow created a stable gameplan for what we do on today’s playfields, it lent class and pedigree to a ragbag of slogans dredged out of dusty textbooks on failed economic doctrines. Soapbox orators of the small screen and big lie, calling up images of 200 years ago, could reflect intellectual glory on their diligent speechwriters, fool the crowd, and stay in power.
What was this kind of antique stability, that Ron and the Magpie blathered about (but only to highly-intellectual audiences) ? A few lines from Plato, Aristotle, Virgil or Cato tell us all we need to know, and all that Greek or Roman leaders – that is dictators – cared to know about the subject. More or less like anyplace else and in any age or era, The Mob had to be kept fed, occupied and amused. If not, it was curtains for those who organized the gameplan. Stability is when the unfed riot mob doesn’t prowl the streets, roads, trails and navigable waters. Apart from this constant factor, however, Ancient Stability was awesomely different from what neoliberalism was out to create, enforce and hold in place. While a Thatcher or Reagan lost little or no sleep on such tiring details, phases of relative stability in Ancient Greece and Rome were preceded or followed by overnight changes in the entire social order, with no concern whatsoever on the economic impacts! As an example, periodic, gung-ho war between loose-allied Greek states often led to make-or-break, back-to-the-wall destabilized situations. Hey presto! The social order was changed overnight. In Sparta for example, from where we get the word spartan (like the intellectual depth of neoliberalism), the society was several times changed. By decree and overnight all marriage was banished, only homosexual and lesbian relations were henceforth licit. All property, including the slaves, was communal. The more powerful the person, the less private property and wealth allowed for that person, major decisionmakers being completely forbidden to receive, own, give or sell any gift, cash or private property of any kind, meaning they were unable to give away tasty Nubian slaves after a wingding. Punishment for wrongdoers, and the Son of Bush today would approve, was execution. Just a few taxes were levied (the State was near bankrupt) mainly for cleaning up after wild orgies and crowd-pulling windings.
Unfortunately for us, the sheep, Big Ron and the Fishwife never applied this stern stability to their own doings, they would have been forced from power and executed in weeks (or days) from their rise to power. But their yuppie followers followed-up on those Stable State wingdings of ancient yore. Any reasonable yuppie, to get that eye-popping, spluttering 300-words-a-minute think byte delivered under the sun-like lights of late night chatshows selling the Ronnie-Maggie Message would tank up on various substances like Spartan players way back. Very unlikely would be the state-of-the-art 1980s yuppie talking head noting that Ancient Greek ‘stability’, in particular, rather often meant pure communism. What use going to a $500-a-plate dinner, to spout and get paid for fooling people, or to write rush-to-print biographies of Great Leaders if you cant accept any cash or gift of any kind?
Up-pyramid winner in ancient stable state strove to live as frugally as possible, couldn’t give away or receive slaves, and even shared their wives. By order not choice.
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N° 5: STRONG MONEY
Defending the money was primal scream for the Neoliberal Greats, from that moment long ago when candidate Ronnie took some scissors and, on the fourth attempt, cut a dollar bill in half without slicing the microphone cord. Once in power, of course, defending money was unsubtly redefined as doubling not halving budget deficits and throwing megabucks at Pentagon gravy train riders. But it was all in a wonderful cause, to defend civilization, to wreck the Evil Empire and to be able to fight wars in Outer Space, just in case aliens tried to weaken our money.
In fact aliens were itching to weaken Strong Money, that is Asian exporters supplying the goods that downsized, de-industrialized companies couldn’t produce even if they could, would and did pay into campaign funds and cash collections for neoliberal causes. Later on, in that long lost Golden Decade of Good Sense, Big Ron and Maggy the Iron Lady cooked up a wily scam for enticing Japanese finance and office development corporations into bubble economy ventures, based on Ron’s fabulous number with US Savings & Loans entities. After that the Japanese would learn not to meddle with Strong Money, as the entire Japanese finance sector was subtly switched to the single track running to the cliff edge. This really was good economic management. Rejoice!
Right from those early 80s times of neoliberal delirium crushing inflation or defending money were interchangeable triggers for a whole series of slogan packs dredging up wacky, 250-year-old economic nostrums that never worked. That, of course, didn’t matter in 1980. At the time, thundered the Great Duo, money was weak and inflation high for a very few simple reasons. Over and above a few domestic examples of scandalous bad management before neoliberal snake oil specialists grabbed power, like millions of people having a job they did not deserve, unions and organized labor were carrying out KGB plans and tinpot oil sheiks (and, later, Desert Dictators) were charging far too much for the black stuff. However, Great Leaders, being extremely courageous as well as just so human, warm, fun-loving and squeaky clean had the right ordnance, as well as the right (even far right) verbal firepower to deal with these djinns. After suitable treatment they would become reasonable. Or die. Strategy analyses were ordered from correct-thinking Think Tanks, those staffed by gurus so sharp they could parrot5-word slogans after just a few weeks deep reflection at $1000-a-day.
First off, however, the domestic scene had to be cleaned. Those easy riders who had a job and did not understand this was completely unmerited and only due to long eras of socialist bondage were the easiest to zap. In a drastically intelligent move for strangling inflation (by making money, as well as everything else, more expensive) central banks were ordered to crank interest rates up to any figure they liked, as long as it was at least double digit. Inferior nations and races could add another digit, it was time for an orgy of interest rate hikes. And why? Any klutz asking such a question evidently had no idea that Big Ronnie and the Fishwife were bringing back the Natural Order (as well as the Stable State) not next week but this afternoon. Neoliberal cheerleaders cackled with triumph as entire industries went down the tube and the Two Greats revelled in mass unemployment, like pigs in a mud bath. Even better, masochists were found in the mass of easy riders jerked on the jobless heaps who would crawl up to the microphone and say: ‘Yes! We had it too easy, I vote for One Party politics’, this second bit being added on to encourage the sheep to come back for more (visits to the abattoir). Yuppie traders soon learned, thanks to their legendary intelligence, what they should do to keep the Bubbling Economy puffing and the neoliberal gravy train steaming. Each time an extra large slab of sheep were thrown out of a job they would ecstatically crank up bourse numbers, and crank up the exchange rate against moneys of Lesser Nations where leaders, being less great, were being bashful about necessary mass unemployment.
This was all sold to what are humorously called ‘educated members of the middle classes’, that is voters just like other sheep, as being the only way forward, Maggy the Moaner having an entire slogan pack based on saying No Alternative 266,000 times over, like some kind of mandala in a yuppie substance-based group therapy session. TV chatshow hosts, not wanting to be left behind in this heady delirium, soon cooked up chapter and verse for those ‘educated’ or influential sheep voters.
Neoliberal-inspired TV reporters found conclusive proof that KGB-backed unions were arming and training not progressive-minded, freedom-loving Talibans in Afghanistan, but the Red Army. Cruel socialists and their Limo Liberal running dogs almost certainly supported the IRA, were likely supplying secrets to Albania, and did not take their kids to Walt Disney films. There was a whole lot of somber, dangerous opposition to the Natural Order, all kinds of people who didn’t pay into campaign funds for neoliberal parties and group hysteria sessions. Unions, in particular, had no respect for the coming Stable State and dared to demand jobs as secure as Ronnie’s for their members, while failing to be ecstatic at the announcement of an extra million jobless. Apart from being misfits and so outdated (they came from a time before video games or smart missile clips) they weakened money, and for that no excuse was possible. Maggy, in her fervent crusade for Freedom, promptly outlawed any union meeting of more than 3 persons at the workplace, to roaring applause from those well-fed chatshow hosts, thundering editorialists, and other halfwits, while Ron calmly went forward in his mission to create the highest levels of unemployment since the 1930s Depression.
As for oilbarrel dictators and bad cheikhs writing checks with our good cash there was almost no limit to neliberal ire. Eminent economists, led by Morris Addlebrain (who had been discovered in an underground book depository on the East Coast) bounced up to the microphone to explain the real price of oil is $2.50 a barrel. At the other end of the supply chain, checked out by leading edge strategists and itching-to-go generals, it was found that some of the oil-pumping fraternity was reasonable, liked playing polo (if not golf), going to garden parties and wanted to keep their seat on the camel train. Baddies, however, existed. They were not sufficiently anxious to pump oil, and above all nurtured political thoughts and unreasonable resentments against kindly politicians and generals of the civilized world who only wanted to redefine their frontiers for them, on the basis of the desert for you, and the oil for us, the Europeans and the Japanese. These recalcitrants had to learn not to interfere in the free (or very low price) flow of oil, and to behave like their polo playing brethren, dance around campfires, have camel races and not waste time on politics. If they stayed bad, the warning rang out, they would need therapy, that is smart missiles.
It took some while to fix the show down. Ronnie had retired to chop polyester logs and Maggy was slipping fast by the time B-52s were sent sailing over cheikhly skies to rain in death and destruction on satanic evil personified – exactly the same Heroic Leader who had fought the Iranians early on in the Golden Decade of New Economic Policy. Sadly, the great Greats had been replaced by Lesser Greats who, certainly, mouthed and blabbered good gung ho calls for telegenic wars on tiny nations for the sheer pleasure of killing people and destroying infrastructures. But the Gulf War number, of which the prime target, as explained in a thousand TV chatshows, was Strong Money through Firm Rulership, was a mega production catching these small guys by surprise. They were often inept with the slogan sequence from behind the padded lectern, their explanation of how exactly Gulf War (the cleanest ever known) instead of blah blah (the stupidest ever know) would keep the Bubble Economy in the air, weaken Japanese creditors, and maintain millions out of work was somewhat unimpressive. But the show had to go on, even if the movie had run its slogan sequences a whole lot too many times.
Money had already become diamond-hard, or at least as rare as a non-lie from a neoliberal. Out in the unreal world above the strategy bunkers and below the TV studios money was so rare it was hard to find. Even one party advertising coffers were running short of the stuff. Much worse, however, was that Great Traders, those heroes who had made a thousand dawn raids on Rust Belt corporations, shrinking them to peanut-size paper holdings and junking thousands out of a job each time, these pillars of the New Economy were speculating against Strong Money. They not only paid less into campaign funds for Ron’s 5th presidential term (or at least Bush’s first and second terms followed by Son of Bush) but also made day and nighttime raid on money markets. Bourses actually wobbled, despite the 1% or 2%-a-day expansion of index numbers being set by neoliberal fatwa, and insulted the very foundations of the Stable State. Great Speculators, baddies by definition, were rapidly subjected to chatshow abuse, and stripped of their status as Heroes of the Paper Economy. There was conclusive proof they had had unhappy childhoods, English was not their mother tongue, and that they were doing wild things like placing our money in the exUSSR instead of simply shipping out the ikons, oil and gas, furs, gold and human chattel for European brothels. That is, they were actually reducing misery, and any neoliberal, Ricardo’s bible on his well-fed breast, will assure you Strong Money is not possible unless Lesser Nations and Classes writhe in creative misery. The message, sadly, went unheard. Neoliberals slipped from power, more people had a job, money got weaker, nobody wanted to
know about neoliberal demonology. Dark and evil times were returning.
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°6: SHOCK THERAPY
After the shock of say 4 or 5 years of self-induced but wonderfully creative recession, instilling respect for Ancient Values (those from even before the time Ronnie was born) by its invigorating dose of mass unemployment, and thousands of Teflon speeches called courageous and statesmanlike, freeplaying maket forces would waft us into the therapeutic Stable State. This, said those pop-eyed, tub-thumping 1980s hucksters working the miracle-a-second patch – and just a few of their brethren who slipped through to the 90s – was the only possible solution to all our ills. Mainly the imaginary variety, but real ones could be given spin doctoring to disappear out of view for a while, be ignored, or be bombed. There really was a solution for every ill, in that neoliberal firebrand slogan pack. Reality, as ever, was a downsider for this very popular hysteria. Like those Teflon speeches, however, the paper recoveries and fragile booms of the neoliberal decade did not stick. By the early or mid-1990s voting publics in the richworld had become sick and tired of therapeutic recession and creative stagnation sold as dynamic injections of an entire new credo into their formerly drab, uniinspiring lives.
The sheep started getting uppity, doing unprogrammed things like having less, or no kids at all, not even buying small cars, consuming the same or less, instead of more, more, more as any well-paid economic adviser to a huckster would tell is the only thing those freeflowing ions on the electronic market playfield would do, if they had an extra cent. Elsewhere, out in the neoliberalized new world, order was scarce and getting scarcer. The purifying flames of mass poverty and the new misery added by neoliberal adjustment (to The Market) in Africa helped intensify local wars, propulsing them to Us-versus-Evil Empire shootouts where inspired local Defenders of The Faith, like Jonas Savimbi, would be airlifted to Ronnie’s side for a heartwarming debate on the Stable State, new types of landmines and other great stuff. Going back home with enough new ordnance to kill another 500,000 persons, this hero could go on fighting for freedown, justice and strong money in those dusty plains where, he had promised, McDo drive-ins would be built the day after the Final Victory.
Africa was, in fact, the Rosemary’s Baby of neoliberal Strangeloves. It was, for starters, the ideal candidate for real shock therapy, being poor, unorganized, lightly-armed and a supplier of raw materials that – neoliberal economic experts proved – were totally worthless. Only by real good of heart would any self-respecting neoliberalized community, territory or enclave buy such yucky, archaic things as chromium, cotton, tungsten, coffee, oil or diamonds. None of these things had any remaining value, none of them are used for making sunrise goods like personal computers or pizzas. But a really wonderful theory (you really Say ?) by a wacky, self-proclaimed philosopher called Say, had become enshrined in a half-dozen or more of the Great Duo’s favorite slogan packs. ‘All that a needful nation should do’ went the 18th Century blah blah, when its confronted by consumer resistance is to simply cut the price. And cut the price, and cut the price (the record got stuck, here). At the same time, Strong Money required that interest rates be double digit, exercizing delicious pressure on what yuppies derided as price takers, low income nations accepting 50% or 75% cuts in the price for their export goods while taking a tripling of interest rates on their loans, proving they were of such inferior rank they were scarce less reprehensible than Bolsheviks. These latter, and the African former were going to receive a lot of neoliberal flak, and plenty of shock, through the Golden decade of Good Economic Sense.
Before the age of smart missile clips, nighttime TV voyeurs in the richworld were able to have the next best thing – shots from endless wars raging across Africa as economy after economy went down the tube. It was just so invigorating and dynamic, for neoliberals, to know that maybe 5 million Africans died of adjustment, that is neoliberal Shock Therapy applied by ex-Harvard yuppies who fell out of an airplane into the central bank of one, and then another victim African nation any day that nation crawled to the IMF for funding. If the experiment didnt work that was fine, and not even necessary to turn off the light as the last IMF adjustment expert quit the country, dozens of countries. Pretty much the entire continent spiralled down into war, famine and misery, making it into some kind of Morality Play byte that earnest neolib intellectuals would find in a (deservedly) forgotten bit written by an 18th Century Great.
As Ricardo would have warmly approved, African warlords, like Big Ron’s buddy Jonas Savimbi, had a real basic agenda. Just to buy ammo, and enough food to keep mobs of hungry persons from tearing everything down, their mindsets were a magical recreation of those in the heady times of Great Thinking, around 1820 for neoliberal soothsayers. Sure they accepted any price at all for their humble, tacky, basic products without an applet in sight, if Great Nations (or even, whisper it, the Evil Empire) would supply them more firepower. These price taking friendlies were what Shock Therapy set out to replicate absolutely anyplace. European friends were invited to open wide, and wider still those floodgates of immigration because a 10-strong family of economic migrants living in a single room would certainly have no time for union nonsense and would be delighted to work a 10-hour day for a couple of those famous pizzas. Any females in the ménage could work as bar hostesses or sell their asses. Their children, later on, could aspire to the PC and vote for the Son of Bush. This was riproaring, pure–minded neoliberalism of the 1980s vintage, voted time after time by burglar alarm protected, villa residing middle classes of the overfed richworld. The African Campaign, even by the mid 80s, was such a gung ho success for neoliberals their Great Leaders naturally thought further out.
The big prize was to come right at the end of the decade, the soon-to-be Former Soviet Union was ripely rotten enough to fall for neoliberal snake oil. Russian oil, unlike snake oil, was decidedly useful for the Stable State, if it cost around $2.50 the barrel, and transforming this FSU monster into a docile price taker would be a fantastic gift to following neoliberal clones. Who, strangely, did not really exist. One of the biggest shocks to neoliberal hucksters was that neither Maggy nor George Bush survived, politically. Something had gone badly wrong with the gameplan! Russia was going to fall in the lap of the neoliberalized world, after delivering a wonderful example of how safe and clean nuclear power really is (Ron had to quit a golf match to announce this was divine retribution for Bad Thoughts). Careful but very natural selection of Great Leaders in Russia cooked up a marvelous Mafia state with a GNP almost equal to that of Belgium by the later 1990s. Shock Therapy had received its finest manifestation, but those natural Great Leaders who should have been there were absent, until GWB poked his nose up over the horizon.
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°7: FREEDOM
Many years of media overkill were needed before richworld voters for, that is victims of neoliberal illusion got the country music message: ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose …’, and by that time they had also found out what No Alternative transformation of society does to their pocketbooks, streets, outlook on life and the planet’s ecosystems, despite fervid assurance from Great Leaders that creeping or leaping impoverishment was a salutary shock reserved only for Lesser Nations and Lower Classes. But, back in the early 80s, things were different. First-wave neoliberals were surfing on the chaos cranked up by applying half-crazed nostrums dredged out of almost any economic fantasy text, as long as it had been written before about 1815, and penned by an unknown (until 1981) guru. Honing this great material down to slogan packs not exceeding the ROM that Ron disposed of was somewhat difficult, but it was not so long before any flowershow opening or yuppie convention had a purpose-builtslogan pack giving a complete explanation of what Great Ills affected the Civilized World. Plugging in the right slogan pack to the bulletproof lectern, the Great Duo could be shipped around anyplace in the Free (to get fooled) World. Intelligent, or so-called middle classes of the overfed world packed themselves into voting booths to give a hurrah for this Return of Common Sense, for a while Maggy and Ron considered self-canonization and declaring the Holy Empire, in perfect counterpart to the Evil Empire. As the joint High Priest and Priestess they would, of course, have eternal power without tiring rituals like elections.
It is important to understand the context of the time, back in that glorious era, when the word Freedom had been sullied, almost destroyed, and insulted each day your neighbor still has a job. You see, unspeakable things had happened in those long years of socialist bondage, when Jimmy Carter, after quitting the KGB, had destroyed the US economy with the aid of tinpot oil sheikhs. Most notably, rich people felt less rich, and too many persons had jobs. Neoliberals had absolutely all the proof needed on this atrocious denial of fundamental freedom. However, by sheer statesmanship, magnanimity and with help from Alzheimer’s disease Big Ron forgot all about the bondage Jimmy Carter had willed on God’s Nation, and officially pardoned Jim in a little-known ceremony held in a Missouri Methodist supermarket, allowing him to return to peaceful pursuits like selling peanut butter and resolving a few of the many wars in Africa that neoliberalism had cleverly cranked up.
Great minds were working hard to fill the intellectual vacuum that goes with neoliberalism like Maggy went with Ronnie. Neoliberalscholars rushed to fill this void from even the early 1970s, with whining platitudes and 200-year-old one-liners that could be honed into sheep-fooling slogans. Most important, they never forgot the 20th Century propaganda rule (Hitler’s own !) which says the bigger the lie the more chance that sheep will gob it, hook, line and sinker. Academic prizes were not-so-discreetly revamped to tilt the intellectual playfield to the right (even far right) end in such fashion that 3-word neolib slogans fell naturally from the mouths of upcoming yuppie eggheads and marketing professors, in the same naturally selected way that power and cash were going to roll into the pockets of One Doctrine mollahs, advertising men and the crowd of Me Too lookalike ‘leaders’ waiting to board the gravy train. This being done, it was no surprise that aging politicians and ex B-movie actors who had never made it were the very first to clamber aboard. As the sheep were informed, later, it was only through monstrous injustice and covert, bolshevik-inspired meddling with Divine Law that had prevented these frankly Divine leaders taking eternal power from the day of their birth.
Neoliberal Greats willfully and wildly exaggerated the horrors of welfare capitalism, keynesianism, full employment and silly, inessential concerns like worrying about polar bears paddling in slush when the ice caps melt. Such concerns, they proclaimed, were certainly not a part of our radiant (even irradiated) future. This future would above all be rational, and reasonable. The poor would multiply, as ever, but well-briefed members of the overfed classes would be there to prey on them. Neoliberal stormtroopers would always be in power, like free-market minded Talibans in Afghanistan valiantly struggling against the (now waning) Evil Empire, and would surely use this New Freedom to set up halal hamburger stands. Rejoice! All kinds of wonderful things would happen. Money would be hard, strong, firm and proud. This was totally sure. A guru from 1603, that is even before the birth of Ron or Milton Friedman, had explained it all in a rave book (of the time) called ‘A Treatise on the Canker of England’s Commonwealth’. At the time ElizaBete the First (the first Elizabitch of England) was on the brink of a putsch due to court plotters playing on the economic rout due to thousands of tons of gold washing up on European shores, each year, from Conquistador pacification of South America. Just anybody had a kilo of gold for paying his pizza, it was as bad as tinpot oil sheikhs taking our good cash for their Sunset Commodity. Now there had been a solution, around 1600, to this. Called Oliver Cromwell. Long before the glorious Gulf War, this vibrant free marketeer had restored Freedom to the Dark Wastes of Ireland and exercised not a little population control.
Today (in those near-forgotten 1980s) it was announced there was just the same solution, called the Ron-and-Maggy smart missile and dumb politics show. Only freedom, to distort facts, exaggerate, and lie had made it possible but socialist bondage was now out, and Freedom was back. With the help of 400-year-old policy gimmicks there was absolutely no question that « we » (believed to be a reference to themselves) would live happier, richer, and free to hire a second or third chauffeur and twenty-fifth bodyguard. Time also played along in this B-movie humid lakeside scene, by being declared dead on arrival – History was finished, the Stable State had arrived, and this was Freedom’s finest hour.
Sheep had found out, but slowly as befits sheep, that Freedom is divisible by the number of free lunches neoliberal mollahs have to be given, and the body count needed in the Third World to keep nice, sensible, well-educated richworld voters overfed, and amused by smart missile clips. Of course, the rather rapid demise of neoliberalism was just simple natural selection, like the Permian revolution (about 200 Million years ago). Vastly primitive creatures, and surely their mindsets, cannot adjust to the slightest change in environment conditions. That too many of the hoi polloi have a job is, already, demeaning for a true grit neoliberal. That they have a vote is the supreme humiliation, in fact a denial of Freedom. The Great Duo were surprisingly (to them) called to vacate their thrones, late in the Golden decade, and were thus unable to respond to new challenges from Lesser Nations and Classes who dared to raise prices for their lowly wares, or not be in ecstasy that they were being bombed for their own good. A swath of Lesser Greats rushed in to try persuading the sheep to go on voting for abattoir construction programs, but this time the message did not get through, oil prices were going to rise (despite it being worth, at most $2.50 a barrel), all kinds of riffraff were going to have a job, the Evil Empire was going to shrink to a joke Mafia state but with thousands of nuclear missiles and Ronnie, because of his grave malady and because Thinking People had abandoned Freedom, was going to have problems chopping that polyester log. Maggy would often pay him a visit to ruminate on their clever destruction of the Western economy.
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°8: THE NATURAL ORDER
Rooting-tooting neoliberals of the long, long-dead 1980s, thundering from behind a bulletproof lectern or simpering in a cozy, intimate late-night TV chatshow would always find a few seconds of their very precious time (after all they were Historic Leaders despite History being dead) to wax lyrical on Natural Order. The slogan pack, here, was out in the far intellectual zone, requiring dozens of words to fully explain the depth and sincerity of the Neoliberal Vision defining Natural Order. So, to help those anxious sheep out there in suburban villa land, Emperor Ron and the Fishwife let it be known that Natural Order was closely-linked to the value of that bottom dollar you have in the seat of your pants. Nat Order made that dollar stronger, Bondage and Bad Thoughts make it weaker. When you renounce your sheeply ways and accept the one path to greatness Money will strengthen as Nat Order rushes in to evolve our society.
It was left to vibrating yuppies, after a substance-based seance, and Great Thinkers such as rip-roaring editorialists of right (even far right) thinking journals to respond to market signals and supply the chapter and verse. The sheep out there were groping for new values in their consumer agony, in their God-willed mission to consume, in kindly fashion, for other persons of the planet. Even to consume those other persons (in an oil war, for example) if it shaved 10 cents off a gallon of gas.
This was hot stuff! There was pent-up passion in those richworld sheep, and it could be turned into easy votes by the good old propaganda ploy of The Bigger the Lie the More You Fool (idiots). Great professors (those with the Right Thoughts) were therefore dredged out of highly-deserved retirement and flashed on the small screen, before or after a 2-minute landmark speech from the Great Duo.
Of course these fairy-like messages were delivered straight from hallowed halls of Serious Thought, by professors dragged out of subground vaults and catacombs. With their 92-year-old but living breath, these cheery fun-lovers proclaimed that Ricardo had given the game plan in all its details, about 1815. Anything after this was not serious, missed the point, and aided unpleasant hotheads to spout from behind their bulletproof lecterns. Like the Emperor Yu (around 600 BC) Ricardo had had a premonition of Darwin’s message to any thinking person, that is non-sheep. For Yu, but not me, and probably also not Darwin (though excited yuppie ‘economists’ affirmed the contrary) there had been a primal chart established on the shell of the World Turtle, as the Great Flood of the Hwang Ho finally receded, and the sun shone. The turtle came out on the river banks, the waters evaporated, and – hey presto! – there was the Final Plan on its back. According to 1980s yuppies Darwin had had exactly the same experience in the Galapagos Islands around 1850. The World Turtle (or maybe Turkey) had trotted round before Darwin, and in its feathers he had glimpsed the purest image of Maggy and Ron’s squeaky-flat market playfield. He was stunned by this vision of future neoliberals in a TV chatshow studio, explaining everything with just their standard slogan pack. Darwin had therefore only referred to this natural evolution in Western economic policy in Hidden Texts, that neoliberals deciphered with the aid of Mormon scholars. Natural Order is, very simply, the natural selection of the finest, biggest mouths. In those dark days of the late 1970s, a result of long eras of socialist bondage, this vision had been cruelly denied to nice voters, behind their burglar alarms. You have to believe this! Great professors on cortisone had said it, in return for near posthumous glory (or at least a fat check).
Fact is, Darwin likely said nothing at all about which turkeys talk fastest in a late night TV chatshow. It was the wonderful Ricardo, Maggy’s super hero, who had coined the magic Natural Order term. In real fact, this is yet another neoliberal lie – much or most of Ricardo’s raging and raving pamphlets were written by his shadow writer, the Reverend Malthus. Now this turkey had taken a close look at Natural Order, and he came away screaming fire and brimstone. The ‘natural order’ that interested him, it is maybe useful to note, was that of around 1820. Those Frenchies, not so long before, had had a scary Revolution, not a few reverends had lost their heads, by guillotine (the smart weapon most loved by The Mob of the time, before TV) and Europe was seething with dangerous socialist ideas. Blacks had dared to wreak havoc in well-organized slave labor plantations of the Caribbean, rum and sugar prices were up. Unspeakable professors had proved that the Earth turns around the Sun, not the other way. Worse still, right (by today’s standards far right) thinking politicians even in those times were muttering that 3-letter tax word.
Now Ricardo had manfully exerted himself, like a yuppie in a failed start up, in late nights of feverish FX trading (without screens, you imagine) and had managed to rip off a few bucks. Why on earth was he going to give away his naturally acquired windfall gains in tax payments to fight a war in some deadbeat colony that might pump oil in 150 years? Being a great philosopher he naturally contemplated the Natural Order that allowed him to be rich, for nothing, while others were poor, for nothing. His eager friend Malthus explained exactly (to Ricardo at least) why this was so. Ricardo, becoming rich, had bucked the trend. The Sweating Masses only get poorer, have even more children and, along the trail, nice people people have a moral duty to rip them off all they can. God had willed. Much more amusing, the two pals scribbled, the world will very most certainly end, in a hyper bloodbath, about 1872. The date chosen was important – it was quite a nice, long time after the deaths of Ricardo and Malthus. However, today’s sheep should understand, they are living on borrowed time before Armageddon, and their only solution, to ease the pain, is to vote for Ron and Maggy.
It was a wonderful message in those grim times when most TV channels flashed, every day, 10-minute-long still photos of CIA agents in Kabul (or maybe Tehran) with a headband over their eyes, to prevent them contemplating stone Buddhas, perhaps. What exactly they were doing there was not too clear, but it was terribly, terribly humiliating to villa dwellers in a Mid west suburb. Our Boys were denied access to stock option plays, and couldn’t even vote Nat Order hucksters into power. In any case it was fire-and-brimstone time, gas prices had risen, and far too many persons had jobs, respect for The Rich was low, and smart missile-larded fireside chats from Our Leaders had not yet been invented. Natural Order was the natural solution. As Malthus had veritably said (more or less) if politicians came to whisper that 3-letter tax word this was yet another, maybe the conclusive proof that mankind is intrinsically evil, and Malthus well knew that his benefactor Ricardo had a saintly fear of this tax abomination, even if it funded colonial wars increasing misery and exploitation. The Natural Order, therefore, was defined as eliminating all taxes – except those paid by low or average income earners. After all, it was still necessary to fight those colonial wars, or for neoliberals, neocolonial wars.
Curiously enough Big Ron and Maggy the Mouth picked up on another quirk of what Ricardo and Malthus had cooked up as Natural Order. Ricardo could not stand Old Money Rich artists, himself being a New artist. Even at the time, around 1820, he loudly criticized their bizarre, to him, behavior. Why, for example, did they not set up tax shelters or play on leverage buyout scams? Instead of denying fertile lands to Crawling Humanity, these aristos allowed the riffraff to occupy their lands, produce food, and replicate themselves. Common intelligence shows that the flotsam must be impoverished yet further to yield a dime, before they die. Nazi slave labor production lines for Mercedes Benz (with or without Chrysler) proved this, a thousand times over. By propelling such stern but reasonable concepts into the status of generally-accepted common sense neoliberalism was going to make fantastic leaps forward in richworld morality – especially that of the ‘thinking middle classes’. It was not long before it became not only common sense, but Divine Will that millions be jerked out of their job to satisfy a two-bit fantasy theory from 175 years back in time. Killing thousands of Iraqis for 10 cents off a gallon of gas was just the most fabulous deal the New Order richworld middle classes ever could imagine. Each night they would thrill to smart missiles and dumb politics in the comfort and security of their consumer unit. Maggy, in particular, had seen Great Things becoming possible through the return of Natural Order. Within 3 years from taking power Good Management of the economy had quadrupled unemployment and tripled inflation. There were, however, compensating and heroic bombs-and-circuses shows for stout-minded English voting sheep – the Falklands had been liberated, also liberating penguin guano supplies for the huddled (before their TV) masses back in Brit. Gardens would green, anyplace, overnight. Almost certainly, on those South Sea islands, troops clearing mines would find a turtle someplace with the master plan engraved on its back, but until we found it nightly trumpeting from behind a teleprompter lectern would nicely fill the bill. Natural Order was back, rejoice!
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°9: RATIONAL ANTICIPATIONS
Neoliberal politicians never hid their desire – they called it a mission – to transform society and make it impossible that they be voted out of power. But their ideology toolkit was rather slim. Not everyone would thrill to creative tax cuts for the rich, that steady-as-you-go perpetual recession, or the salutary shock of losing your own job not long after you gloated that the neighbors had lost their jobs. What was needed was a human behavior model just a bit more realistic than good old Homo Economicus, that good old caveman roughing it out on the super flat playfield, even digging trenches in it from time to time when an invigorating war was cooked up. The voting public needed to know, that is be told why the economy is in a mess, while having them continue to crowd the voting booths and vote for No Alternative medicine.
It was a tough mission. Several years had flowed by, stodgily, before the Great Duo could finally bring new firepower to their slogan packs. Young, and not-so-young professors and scribes (some not using substances) scoured through august stacks of Classic Theory, anything at all written before about 1825, even amazing accounts of Strange Happenings in far-away places. All was grist to the mill if the New and oh-so-natural Order was to be kept in place. Using perspicacity, and not a little creative license these scribes and shaman of Good Sense sifted through the liberal dust to find new platitudes for the Great Duo to spout on nighttime TV. After incredible effort, they dug up Rational Anticipations, giving it – instantly – a pedigree those creepy bolsheviks could never claim for their yucky material.
Long before troublesome and salacious psychologists such as Freud and Jung messed up the ballgame, right (even far right) thinking ‘economists’ of the 19th C had sat in with their mindshrink colleagues who sliced human bevior into just two types. Us, the Great Leaders, and Them, the sheep.
At the time voting was unknown most anyplace, enabling the Great to become great in record time and stay that way. The fundamental problem of sheep was their timidity. When their neighbor lost his job they unreasonably reduced their hamburger consumption; when they lost their own they went flaky and hardly consumed anything at all, but Big Ron encouraged certain favored targets for neoliberal treatment, especially if they were a bit, er uh, sick, to sell their blood, if for example they were not able to sell their ass. This not-so-good but serviceable blood was immediately sold to cost-conscious European friends, enabling them to import the True Message of neoliberalism to the body politic. With a specially ferocious glint in their eyes the Great Duo could now stride to their lecterns and announce that Rational Expectations were that most persons would lose their job but this was just the most hunky-dory mindwarp experiment in economic policy for at least 200 years. For that alone You will be pleased to sacrifice all.
It seemed unlikely but, the Greats assured, that old Homo Economicus had begun to think ahead, at least a few seconds into the Future, and this cramped his caveman style, he lacked vigor and drive, he started imagining silly things like losing his job or – horror – voting for Another Party. The new Economic Man, a laugh-a-minute special that Son of Reagan (Father of W) blazed forth with in his own 2-minute landmark speeches, had minuscule but real thoughts. To get him whirring across those unbelievably flat market playfields we now have to give him signals, man. Economic Man is not deeply intelligent, like a ranting speechwriter, but sometimes listens to what he hears on TV news shows or reads as much as a whole page of text while sifting through Nazi souvenir sites on the Net. Through the 1980s, and of course this was in no way the fault of neoliberals (it was announced) Economic Man had gotten to think the future was at best on hold, or maybe cancelled. Worse still, they seemed no longer, and perhaps through diminishing returns, to love, admire and crave for war-and-pestilence clips on the TV, showing us what neoliberal ‘adjustment’ does to Lesser Nations over and above reducing the price of coffee by as much 10 cents the cup. There was a general lack of vigor, few industries were closed down overnight, index numbers on Bourses sometimes fell (through the floor), even the Evil Empire lacked luster and, frankly, seemed on its last legs.
In fact the ballgame had changed and the playfield was a mess of mines and public relations boobytraps. Neoliberals had gone into retreat after the shock retirement of their High Priest and Priestess, and did not know what to do with the surprise gift of 180 Million exSoviet economic boat people. It was a time of intellectual torment, befitting the fall of any regime, even the House of Usher. Learning that eternal power was a mirage, legendary Greats like Thatcher being reduced to write $3 Million biographies that any rap singer could match and with almost as little effort, the new crop of Lesser Leaders rationally anticipated. They were out in the cold if they got voted off the gravy train so it was time for them to play Homo Politicus, the greedier cousin of H.Economicus-1. Bombs and circuses were back, along with « Don’t ask me – I’m in power for the 2 years and 5 months » as their stock response to why the Radiant Future had been cancelled.
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°10: ECONOMIC MIRACLE
At least in those dying decades of the 20th C, no self-respecting great leader could pass muster and take the fast track to the High Ground of ikon status without working an economic miracle for at least a couple of months, while rigorously holding to conditions applying for any would be great to write their name in capital letters: Lie about how bad things were, before; lie about how good things will be in the radiant (even irradiated) future. Ron and Maggy leapt on that one, as you can guess.
Nobody likes lying, so it was called propaganda until that, also, got a bad image because it had been used by Lefties like Lenin, and by Anti-lefties like Adolf H. who had both gone just a bit too far in their common sense crusades for eternal values and, above all, stability. Back in the voting boondocks, especially in those Kansas Methodist supermarkets, it was found that calling it Advertising, Marketing and Communication went down real well, so selling neoliberalism was artfully confided to ace dogfood sales campaign gurus. These guys were going to apply the same spin that allowed them to have every dog from anyplace in the world drooling for yet another can of that scrumptious offal.
As Pavlov had more or less proved, you feed a dog with neoliberalism and it can lift its paw to vote, and its hind legs, many times over, before its brain gets too spongy to keep up the show.
Politicians, being power-oriented, were less interested in Lassie and a whole lot more in what makes those vibrant and thinking middle class sheep bleat, down there in Kansas behind the burglar alarms. Before they trot into the voting booth and confirm they really love Economic Miracle, but only if the neighbor loses his/her job. Voters had – in fact still have – a troublesome penchant for placing an X in the wrong box, for the wrong candidate and party, not understanding that it was a simple question of Economic Miracle or Eternal Decline.
It was not for nothing that the Reagan-Thatcher crusade for common sense, courage, eternal values and fun wars on small countries was sold, like dogfood campaigns, to Great Editorialists of Serious Newspapers looking for a new gizmo to pad out their tawdry columns. Personal image consultants were recruited, by the Great Duo, with fantastic care as to their sensitivity for the personal crisis of near-hysterical politicians feeling they’d been cheated in their endless quest for eternal power.
The spin doctors were at their keyboards and consoles when the Neoliberal Age dawned in double page spreads and 45-second TV ads that seared by the number of lies, that is basic good sense, they contained per square inch or second. Those late-70s gurus had a mission indeed: not only sell the impossible overnight (this was, after all, their core business), but also keep the unspeakable on the gravy train, first class, for the rest of time. Miracles were needed!
If those giants of the Neoliberal Age had not been so folksy, human and warm they would have understood sooner (or sometime) that Economic Miracle rather often let down other and former Great Leaders – who then ended up on the gallows. In fact, this historic element was such a problem that History itself was declared dead around 1989 in an attempt to prolong the neoliberal era. But, back in the heady days of wall-to-wall neoliberal delirium, about 1984, the paper miracle was humming along. Even sheep could trot out in their 200 HP Toyota, visit their favorite yuppie trader, buy shares in most any paper conglomerate and get 15%-a-year. Those lambs who did not want to gambol could stay glued behind their TV screens and calculate how much the ‘value’ of their trailer home or condo had risen the last week or two. Feeling real good, voting for Good Sense.
Now this was all miraculous, as promised, but more than a certain number of sheep lost their jobs or got mugged, tired of lies, thought about the environment (for maybe the first time!), or simply started getting bored with New Order bombing campaign clips instead of dogfood commercials. Worse still, there were sheep out there, and not only in Kansas, who became gripped with fear. This four letter word was and is known to the spin doctor community, who immediately advised Great Leaders to up the ante, pile on the gas, go yet further out. By the later 1980s economic miracles had been played in every sense you can imagine – in October 1987, for example, Big Ron supervised a bourse hit of around $ 1750 Billion in a few days. He was there, complete with bullet-proof lectern, adding a little more fire and brimstone to the funeral pyre of neoliberal hype. Maggy blitzed billions of Special Drawing Rights on saving penguin resources for the civilized world (that is YooKay), and yet housing prices hardly rose more than 1%-a-week, for 1 week, after this Miracle.
There were serious declining marginal returns operating on this neoliberal number, urging the closest, most-intimate advisers to move up to the most-serious advice. It was simple. New PR and Old Lies can only go so far on the glorious trail to eternal power. Really great leaders have, at that point, to break with tiresome rituals like elections, and declare themselves eternal rulers.
The neoliberal economic miracle had already flagged out, like any other. It had lasted for days, weeks, sometimes several months at a time, but always came back to its own track – endless recession. Despite the fifth facelift or the very latest loudmouth yuppie guru, flowershow openings and morticians conventions no longer thrilled with hit-me-again calls for more of the Ron and Maggy show. Incredibly (to neoliberals) persons came up to the microphone, alive, and talked about Keynes or Schumpeter or Steven Spielberg, but not about their Personal Experience of Eternity when, after hearing that fifteen thousandth 3-minute landmark speech from the Great Duo, they decided to call all their boy children ‘Ron’, and all their dogs ‘Maggy’ (or maybe the other way round). The Stable State, more or less, was still grinding along out there on the flat market playfields with a tent city of riffraff, unemployeds, ne’er-do-wells and persons interested by freak causes (like the environment) abounding in all senses, but those ‘intelligent middle class’ voter sheep just stopped turning out like zombies when the PR man pushed the button. And the economy was in a real mess, but what do you expect after neoliberalism ?
NEOLIBERAL NOSTRUMS N°11: CREATIVE TAXATION
For purebred classic-minded economists taxation, and especially income tax is a strange aberration they have difficulty living with. A quick scan through the scribblings of Classic Greats, around 1760-1860, shows an unwillingness to believe in this artificial constraint on free market forces. However economists, like other soothsayers driven by non-theoretical desires to become overpaid Talking Heads and gurus have to adjust their mindsets to what the powerful want to hear. Whether fighting wars, defending eternal values or creating millions of jobs – after destroying tens of millions – politicians and their underlings need plenty of cash.
It had in fact always been that way. Even Greek and Roman prefects levied taxes and not only for war. Paying prefectorial parties, keeping the crowd swooning with Godzilla orgies, and then paying the next day’s clean up did not come cheap. Citing such antecedents, the New Economists only had to bat their eyelids a couple of times before they pronounced that 3-letter tax word. They even had a favored explanation that flashed on the teleprompter under Big Ron’s bulletproof lectern – Tax has always existed but we didn’t know what to call it.
When the 1980s neoliberals stormed to power in a richworld already reeling from stagnation and joblessness they gave themselves plenty of artistic, that is intellectual licence. There was, above all, No Alternative, if they were going to grab power in record time, eliminate the State within a week, reduce taxes almost to zero, pay back all their buddies who helped they clamber aboard the gravy train and – after just a little Sacrifice (but certainly not their own) – they would deliver Jobs For All.
What remained of their creatively downsized, almost non-existent taxation would be used for fine purposes like struggling against the Evil Empire and having Star War capability. Nice people voting for this would have the pleasure of seeing hundreds of thousands of extra homeless in their streets, making them immediately feel richer and nicer, and terribly happy they voted for this outcome. The ‘feel good factor’ was launched as a key to keep those sheep swilling through the voting booths.
The bottom line for sheep and everybody else was that the Invisible Hand, as ever, reached down into taxpayers’ pockets, but this time it was creative. Neoliberals had done their homework, had read dozens of pages about economics (in Time magazine, for example), they knew that the average taxpayer is a billiard ball bundle of burning desire rolling endlessly to more pleasure, and away from pain. This slice of the social pie, as both classics and moderns said out loud, is pretty much untreatable. If its members were given tax breaks they would do stupid things like buy a Japanese CD player or Colombian substances – and not go to a $500-a-plate dinner conference to hear an addlebrain explain how oil is only worth $2.50 a barrel and anybody who charges more must (logically) be bombed, or that a sinister plot has emerged to deny civilized nations access to nutmeg supplies from Grenada. You guessed the Only Solution possible – bomb treatment. Guess who will pay for it, and how?
It was soon necessary to up the ante, to explain more deeply and even more sincerely why taxes stayed pretty much as they’d always been, except when they increased. Economists seeking a place in those sun-like TV studios soon reworked classic material to pump up the slogan pack on Creative Taxation. Since income tax had to exist, to feed politicians and defend our civilization, it can only be progressive or, in fact, non-progressive. This was a hateful leftover from eras of socialist bondage when The Rich were deliberately identified, and humiliated, by being made to pay a higher percentage share of their higher income, in tax, than riffraff and deadbeats who didn’t even have a Filipina maid, Polish gardener or a Porsche. This insult was called ‘progressive taxation’. Very obviously it was non-progressive, do you imagine that Big Ron or Maggy the Mouth would do their show for peanuts or cortisone jabs alone? This was a relic of the Time Before, those dark and frightening Keynesian eras when most people had a job but did not know what terrible things they were doing to the radiant (even irradiated) future.
Quite simply, the Two Hucksters thundered, the richer the person the less that person should pay, starting with us. It was just so completely or transparently evident that giving tax breaks to the super rich would enable them to hire a third Filipina maid, a second gardener (maybe Ukrainian, if not too radioactive) and think about buying a US-made car for the Estonian chauffeur who helps out at weekends. How exactly this was going to pay for Star Wars (or plain old oil wars) was not too obvious and got less so, fast. Street crime, too, had gotten a little bit too raunchy as George Bush 1er found out to electoral cost. Facts and figures, a bane to any snake oil salesperson, cast a baleful light on the neoliberal fantasy economic scene. Taxes, most anyplace, either stood still or increased, though thanks to ripping a hole in the social security net enough funds were liberated to fight telegenic wars and leave enough over for the rat pack of neoliberal scholars, saints and soothsayers to sputter over into the early 90s.