Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Join Us In the Real World

If you want to point to something in order to give an ostensive definition of intestinal fortitude, try this speech by Naomi Klein at the University of Chicago. I will post snippets, but it is a must read.

what we are seeing with the crash on Wall Street, I believe, should be for Friedmanism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for authoritarian communism: an indictment of ideology. It cannot simply be written off as corruption or greed, because what we have been living, since Reagan, is a policy of liberating the forces of greed to discard the idea of the government as regulator, of protecting citizens and consumers from the detrimental impact of greed, ideas that, of course, gained great currency after the market crash of 1929, but that really what we have been living is a liberation movement, indeed the most successful liberation movement of our time, which is the movement by capital to liberate itself from all constraints on its accumulation.

So, as we say that this ideology is failing, I beg to differ. I actually believe it has been enormously successful, enormously successful, just not on the terms that we learn about in University of Chicago textbooks, that I don’t think the project actually has been the development of the world and the elimination of poverty. I think this has been a class war waged by the rich against the poor, and I think that they won. And I think the poor are fighting back. This should be an indictment of an ideology. Ideas have consequences...

I think all ideologies should be held accountable for the crimes committed in their names. I think it makes us better. Now, of course, there are still those on the far left who will insist that all of those crimes were just an aberration—Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot; reality is annoying—and they retreat into their sacred texts. We all know who I’m talking about.

But lately, particularly just in the past few months, I have noticed something similar happening on the far libertarian right, at places like the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation. It’s a kind of a panic, and it comes from the fact that the Bush administration adapted—adopted so much of their rhetoric, the fusing of free markets and free people, the championing of so many of their pet policies. But, of course, Bush is the worst thing that has ever happened to believers in this ideology, because while parroting the talking points of Friedmanism, he has overseen an explosion of crony capitalism, that they treat governing as a conveyor belt or an ATM machine, where private corporations make withdrawals of the government in the form of no-bid contracts and then pay back government in the form of campaign contributions. And we’re seeing this more and more. The Bush administration is a nightmare for these guys—the explosion of the debt and now, of course, these massive bailouts.

So, what we see from the ideologues of the far right—by far right, I mean the far economic right—frantically distancing themselves and retreating to their sacred texts: The Road to Serfdom, Capitalism and Freedom, Free to Choose. So that’s why I’ve taken to calling them right-wing Trotskyists, because they have this—and mostly because it annoys them, but also because they have the same sort of frozen-in-time quality. You know, it’s not, you know, 1917, but it’s definitely 1982. Now, the left-wing Trots don’t have very much money, as you know. They make their money selling newspapers outside of events like this. The right-wing Trots have a lot of money. They build think tanks in Washington, D.C., and they want to build a $200 million Milton Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago.

And I think it would be so wonderful to have the brilliant young economists of the University of Chicago—I don’t know if any of them bothered to come out tonight—but to have your minds at work meeting this crisis. We need you. We need open minds. We need flexible minds, as creative as possible. The Milton Friedman Institute, in its name and essence, is about trying to recapture a moment of ideological certainty that has long passed. It has long passed because reality has intervened. It was fun when it was all abstract. It was fun when it was all in the realm of promise and possibility. But we are well past that. Please, don’t retreat into your sacred texts. Join us in the real world.
I'd contend that the last eight years are not only a demonstration of the poverty of Freidmanism, but also of Kirkpatrickism, the combination of which is the touchstone for post-Reagan conservatism. I've been torn for a while that the basic tenets of neo-conservatism were not spelled out clearly and the evidence of their failure explicitly shown. Ideas have consequences, indeed, and we need to hold ideas responsible for those consequences.