Apr 122020
 

Once again I turn to the “historian and philosopher of economic thought” (quoting Wikipedia) Philip Mirowski and his eponymous book discussing How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown.

The book seems tailor-made for Covid-19, although it applied to the financial crisis in 2008. Back then, when many of us were worried, or should I say “frantic”, there were powerful people – people we really don’t want to know personally – who abused, and twisted and skewed things, who confounded and befuddled and “discombobulated” (a word Mirowski uses a lot) us for reasons of their own.

You will no doubt have noticed that since the end of this century’s first decade, which culminated in a financial crisis, the top 10% have become even richer and the bottom 50% very much poorer than they were.

In his book, Philip Mirowski demonstrates that there was and is an actively pursued agenda underlying Neoliberalism, and that there have been and are active agents pushing it. It didn’t have to happen. Reagan and Thatcher, taking their cues from Milton Freedman, didn’t have to happen either. There are other approaches to running a country than those propounded by the so-called Chicago School. Mirowski’s more recent article Hell is Truth Seen Too Late is not an easy read, but it gives a general idea of the agenda and its agents.

We have been hoodwinked into treating economic “laws” as holy cows. For example, the wording in the following quote will tend to stymie any climate activist who has doubts about the sustainability of “economic growth” (Source).

Natural economic law refers to the natural rule (mother rule) that three important consumptions drive the cyclic development of economy. It means: consumption – market – demands (increasing consumption needs of desire – recognition – knowledge and inspiration – recognition) – scientific research – production – consumption of higher level. It is a natural economic law of spiral movement.

Mirowski is not the only one to point out that people we don’t want to know personally are happy to exploit a crisis to advance their own ends. Naomi Klein has also written several books about the matter, including The Shock Doctrine. See what she has to say about the potential consequences of Covid-19. Mind you, she is not saying we are powerless. On the contrary, she is saying that we need to be alert. Grieving about the future is useless, particularly now that we actually have a chance of tipping the scales.

Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens has been very visible in the media lately. I imagine him as a rather reserved sort of character, so his urgent appeals to the general public these past two months strike me as wake-up calls. (Google Harari + Covid). Speaking of Yuval Harari and the sustainability of economic growth, do please read Chapter 16 in Sapiens. In the light of Covid-19, read it again if you’ve forgotten it.

The Irish Times has recently interviewed Thomas Piketti, who echoes the trio. “Times of crisis are times when the existing ideologies are challenged and when national and international trajectories are likely to change.” The Irish Times continue: “Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic he says it would have been impossible to put air travel on hold as a measure to tackle climate change. But with this new reality, which we are at least temporarily confronted with, that perspective is now changing.”

Obviously, from now on, things will be different. To all appearances, there will merely be winners and losers. The telecom industry, obviously, will be winners, online shops and supermarkets that provide home deliveries likewise, and many companies will rapidly be able to redesign themselves. With predicted soaring unemployment, however, very many of us are already defining ourselves as losers.

But not so fast: Yes, businesses will all have to redesign themselves, unless they already have. Whole countries will have to do so too, though. Whole countries, mine and yours. It’s not just a question of the distribution of wealth and income. It’s also a matter of the distribution of power (not least in view of galloping developments within surveillance technology). And finally it’s a matter of the fate of the planet.

If you are the only one in town who is going to lose your job and your health insurance, you will feel very very bad indeed. Let me put it another way: the more of you there are, the more likely it is that your government will have to introduce some very major changes for your benefit.

If you are a telecom employee, you don’t want to wake up in 5 years feeling the way Edward Snowden felt when he realised that with his expertise he had contributed to a Big Brother is Watching You scenario.

So what will it be? Who will have the final say about the world we leave to our children? Trump, Putin, Xi and their likes, religious fundamentalists (Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish) or the rest of us?

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