Tuesday, January 17, 2017

In California we are overcoming words that blind and bind: avoiding the ideology of Neoliberalism

As noted in previous posts, it's nearly past time to begin to implement climate change adaptation plans at the state and local level. At the national level it's nearly past time to begin to prepare adaptation plans including how to handle potential future mass migration and significant economic dislocation.

But when the headlines read 'Governor Moonbeam' Vows to Launch 'Own Damn Satellite' If Donald Trump Ignores Climate Change in which were told...
In a barnburner speech on Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown vowed to defy any attempt by the future President to “mess with” the state’s earth science programs, telling a group of geophysicists in San Francisco, “We will persevere.”

“We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight,” Brown told the American Geophysical Union to wild applause. “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.”
...it pretty much gives us a feel for what the political and economic landscape looks like and it doesn't look like smooth sailing for those Californians who care about their descendants living in the year 2117.

Our beloved Governor Moonbeam is acutely aware that climate scientists are anxious over threatened NASA climate science cuts during Trump presidency and House Republicans have tried to defund Defense Department initiatives to prepare for climate change impacts.

Recently some political philosophy types rediscovered why it is that the Western World has been unable to cope with climate change impacts. The reason is 21st Century "Neoliberalism" - a name coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938 for an alternative ideology.

As Neoliberalism has evolved, it has become an ideology which asserts that 21st Century market metaphors, metrics, and practices should permeate all fields of human life. It is an ideology that is winning outside California primarily because its advocates from Silicon Valley have operated outside the traditional social, economic and political norms.

Ben Tarnoff, a San Francisco journalist who writes about technology and politics, in a December 2016 article explains the nature of Neoliberalism in the correct context:
No industry has played a larger role in evangelizing the neoliberal faith than Silicon Valley. Its entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with new ways to make more of our lives into markets. A couple of decades ago, staying in touch with friends wasn’t a source of economic value – now it’s the basis for a $350bn company. Our photo albums, dating preferences, porn habits, and most random and banal thoughts have all become profitable data sets, mined for advertising revenue. We are encouraged to see ourselves as pieces of human capital that must ceaselessly enhance our value – optimizing our feeds and profiles, hustling for follows and likes and swipes.

If Silicon Valley is turning our personal lives into a business, then Trump hopes to turn our government into one. Like all of Trump’s ideas, this isn’t especially original. For decades, neoliberal politicians of both parties have promoted the notion that government should not only serve business, but operate like one. They’ve argued that public services should be privatized, or at least model the “efficiency” of the private sector. They’ve claimed that business is the highest form of human endeavor, and that the role of the state is to empower and emulate it.
It is important to note that Tarnoff earlier in August 2016 wrote a piece decrying the planned October 2016 action of the government that turned over ownership of the internet domain name system (DNS) to the private sector, again in the correct context in which he explained:
But the symbolic significance is huge. The October handover marks the last chapter in the privatization of the Internet. It concludes a process that began in the 1990s, when the US government privatized a network built at enormous public expense.

In return, the government demanded nothing: no compensation, and no constraints or conditions over how the Internet would take shape.

There was nothing inevitable about this outcome — it reflected an ideological choice, not a technical necessity. Instead of confronting critical issues of popular oversight and access, privatization precluded the possibility of putting the Internet on a more democratic path.
In that August 2016 article he explains how the internet was developed and how it was privatized. He advocates reclaiming "the People’s Platform" to bring it "under democratic control" so it isn't "used to produce immense concentrations of corporate power."

Sadly in December 2016 he was explaining how those corporations implemented Neoliberalism in our daily lives and were now implementing a government agendas outside California. What happened in between is Donald Trump was elected President because the world's latte-drinking urban liberals thought Trump was a buffoon, not a Neoliberal with memories of adolescent longings for an Ayn Rand iWorld where information need not be fact and all information is monetized.

If you asked any "smart" progressive or liberal politician or staffer or press member before November 2016 what a Neoliberal was, probably 90% would have given you a blank look or fumbled around for words. Not all, however.

There were some Millennials, not long out of college, who still retained their ability to read more than 140 characters. In my February 11 post Hillary Clinton's Dilemma: the Centrist Third Way Policies of Bill's Presidency vs. Young Women I offered this quote from Clio Chang (emphasis added) 
Is it so outlandish to think that the circumstances in which each generation grew up would affect their political preferences? Particularly when those circumstances are of immense historical importance, like the Great Recession? While those who entered the workforce during Bill Clinton’s presidency may remember his legacy as an era of economic prosperity, that wealth hasn’t trickled down to today’s millennials. Two decades later, they are just as likely to hear criticisms of Clinton’s policies, such as welfare reform, DOMA,and mandatory minimum sentences. Indeed, when you take into account the root causes of the financial crisis, income inequality, and wage stagnation, the Clinton years start to look like part of a neoliberal-conservative consensus, as opposed to a liberal outlier between two Bush administrations. At a time when more young voters seem to be following all the correct steps for success—graduating high school, getting a college degree—but are still floundering, it’s no wonder that they are drawn to Sanders’s stacked-deck rhetoric.
As Tarnoff noted in his December article, Trump built his campaign around the premise that his chief qualification for the presidency was his success as a businessman and promised to make America great again by bringing business discipline and dynamism to government.

Democrats, who wouldn't want to offend the deluded in their effort to be be inclusive, offered no coordinated attack on this expression of Neoliberal ideology at least partly because some of their ilk agree with it.

Nor did the mainstream media offer such an attack because the term Neoliberalism wasn't recognized by the camera-hogs in the mainstream media. That is understandable, though not forgivable, because sometime in the early-to-mid-1950's the term "neoliberal" disappeared from normal political discourse, except in certain tight circles and among those who study political science instead of celebrity politics.

While no one was looking, Neoliberal wealthy corporate interests funded academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia, plus a series of think tanks including the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They created a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists who always hid under the traditional label "conservative."

As I've explained in previous posts, in the United States they quietly took over most state legislatures and executive offices which then allowed them to take control of Congress. Now they will have Donald Trump as President and will continue their attempts to take control of European governments.

As British writer, George Monbiot, explains it:
Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?

So pervasive has neoliberalism become that we seldom even recognise it as an ideology. We appear to accept the proposition that this utopian, millenarian faith describes a neutral force; a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the philosophy arose as a conscious attempt to reshape human life and shift the locus of power.
It is in the context of  Neoliberal values that we can understand that all persons are free to compete, but the competition is never a fair competition, because life is not fair, nor should any government attempt to make it fair or even a little fairer. Overlaid on a biosphere disruption scenario, Neoliberalism almost seems to guarantee a dystopian future.

In contrast, Egalitarian Progressivism reached the peak of its influence in the United States in the first half of the 20th Century, then slowly faded as the collective memory of The Great Depression faded.

In California, it was epitomized by the Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960 signed by Governor Pat Brown which established a system of tuition-free higher education for residents including the University of California, the California State University System, and the statewide community college system. (This was ultimately undone in 1978 by Proposition 13.)

Egalitarian Progressivism involved mixing industrial and technological progress with active governmental intervention to assure equal opportunity and a proper balance of distributive justice. It is distributive justice that creates a significant contrast with Neoliberalism.

However, Egalitarian Progressivism as it evolved in the 20th Century is complicated.

In his book Group DynamicsProfessor Donelson R. Forsyth, Thorsness Endowed Chair in Ethical Leadership, Jepson School of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond, explains that "distributive justice" is about how rewards and costs are distributed among members of a group (or a city or nation) which takes into account five conflicting "norms" which typically confront groups. These can be summarized (in a different order than Forsyth presents them) as:
  1. Responsibility: Group members who have the most should share their resources with those who have less.
  2. Need: Those in greatest needs should be provided with resources needed to meet those needs, regardless of their input..
  3. Equity: Members' outcomes should be based upon their inputs. Therefore, an individual who has invested a large amount of input (e.g. time, money, energy) should receive more from the group than someone who has contributed very little.
  4. Power: Those with more authority, status, or control over the group should receive more than those in lower level positions.
  5. Equality: Regardless of their inputs, all group members should be given an equal share of the rewards/costs
In the context of American society, economics, and politics, Egalitarian Progressivism requires that these norms be used giving priority in the order they are listed above to set the course for the ship of state. The first four are understood as requirements applied to keep the ship running. The last is then used to adjust the final heading - it is the "fairness" standard of mediation that keeps everyone on board and avoids a mutiny. But it requires commitment and compromise.

"Need" is given a high priority, but it is a word not limited to economics. In terms of the individual perspective,  Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs applies:

During World War II, in order to distinguish themselves from the Nazi and Japanese societies, the Allies adopted the Four Freedoms to which every human is entitled as elucidated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 6, 1941 —freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want—as their basic war aims.

Advocates of Egalitarian Progressivism believe that in 1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights amplified those Four Freedoms, placing the burden on government, with the support of every person and organization, to assure that the physiological and safety needs of all persons are met.

Further it also placed the responsibility on every person, organization, and government to see that every person's need for belonging and for esteem can be met to the extent the group can facilitate achieving them using the norms of distributive justice.

In the United States advocates of Egalitarian Progressivism in the first two-thirds of the 20th Century achieved much through government. But beginning in the mid-1970's under both Republican and Democratic Presidents, that stopped.

It should be clear from the discussion above that "egalitarian" as used here supports the thought that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, a thought that logically requires and supports the dictate that all people should be treated as equals and have the same basic political, economic, social, and civil rights.

It does not mean, nor did it ever mean, socialism simply because it acknowledges norms based on how groups behave and what people need, and suggests folks work it out through democratic governments. Nevertheless....

In 1938 in Paris two exiles from Austria, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, discovered a shared belief that social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, was a manifestation of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism. So they coined the term Neoliberalism as a label for their view.

Hayek, who in a 1944 book argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control, in 1947 founded the first organization to spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – supported by millionaires and their foundations.

This set the pattern that for the next 50 years was used in the U.S. successfully to create a funding base to support three decades of a Republican political strategy to take control of 32 of 50 state legislatures as shown on the map above, 33 governors offices, both houses of Congress, and the Presidency.

The problem is, starting with President Jimmy Carter, there has been a steady shift in the Democratic Party away from Egalitarian Progressivism - we find terms describing elected Democrats as New Democrats, Centrist Democrats, Clinton Democrats, Moderate Democrats,  Blue Dog Democrats, and Third Way Democrats. Many leading New Democrats, such as Bill Clinton, started out in the George McGovern wing of the Democratic Party but gradually moved toward the right on economic and military policy, effectively accepting elements of Neoliberalism.

At the beginning of the 21st Century Egalitarian Progressivism had no home in either of the two dominant national political parties. Neoliberal philosophy had seduced Democratic politicians seeking a national stage, though not all of those active at the State level.

At the state level in Florida, where streets are frequently under water because of rising sea levels and the government is controlled by Neoliberals, the term's "climate change" and "global warming" may not be mentioned in official state documents or by state officials.

On the other hand, the government of California, led by old Egalitarian Progressive Democrats, in 2009 established an extensive program to cope with regional climate change impacts as noted in previous posts.

But California has an advantage. Silicon Valley billionaires, like Hollywood billionaires, like living here and want to continue to be able to live here, even if personal income taxes at their income levels are unusually high. This is a contrast with other locations.

Curiously, for decades many American billionaires have been buying large ranches in the group of states pictured at the left, running from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. These 1,000± acre ranches can, of course, be impacted by drought, wildfire, blizzards, etc. But with proper site planning and building construction, they represent the best locations to escape the long term dislocation impacts on America of climate change.

In addition to protecting themselves and their families, how will Neoliberals additionally engage adaptation to a disruption of the biosphere? What would they do if the scene below were the picture of a continuing disaster - one that we knew would last a century or more?

Would their first response be to study how to monetize the situation for corporate profits?  If it couldn't be monetized directly would we see the equivalent on the internet of the billboard war which would generate corporate revenue from social media?

Would the symbol of U.S. migration policy be a picture like this and the experience similar to what Florence Thompson describes (click the picture):

Consider the pictures of Florida in the previous post with two more feet of tidal water in the middle of a heavy rainstorm 25 years from now, then realize flooding like this is going to happen - indeed has happend - in New York City and other coastal cities of the United States absent billions spent on flood control projects that likely will not be enough 50 years after their completion:

Exactly how will a government dominated by people who believe in Neoliberalism prepare?

Or will that government prepare? After all, the core of Neoliberal philosophy is everyone is responsible for themselves.  After all, for decades billionaires have been buying large ranches ...oh I already said that above.

Well... It needs to be repeated as those ranches are in the best locations to escape the long term regional dislocation impacts of climate change. It will isolate the Neoliberals from the unwashed masses should the need arise.

Warnings about this scenario have been offered. The late journalist, author and activist Jane Jacobs was described as one of the most prescient writers of the 20th century before her last book, titled Dark Age Ahead, was released in 2004.

The New Yorker reviewer Paul Goldberger called the book, "a despairing look at the state of things, and like everything Jacobs wrote, it is a curious combination of plainspoken common sense based on simple, empirical observation of the world around her, and broad generalizations about the nature of cities and cultures." It was not recommended light summer reading for the masses.

In her 2004 book Jacobs warns of an increasing distrust of government, worsening environmental degradation, entrenched segregation, and an “enlarging gulf between rich and poor along with attrition of the middle class” as signals and symptoms of a coming Dark Age.

“Cultural xenophobia is a frequent sequel to a society’s decline from cultural vigor,” as “self-imposed isolation” leads to “a fortress mentality,” she writes. That mentality transforms logic into myth, Jacobs writes, with a conservatism that “looks backward to fundamentalist beliefs for guidance and a worldview.”

This has insidious impacts on society. She cited the 1995 Chicago Heat Wave, which killed hundreds of mostly elderly Chicagoans. Comparing two studies, one by the United States Department of Health and the other by Eric Klinenberg a sociology graduate student who wrote his thesis on the disaster, she argued that the federal study was unconsciously biased by the prevailing political and economic ideology, neoliberalism, which promoted individualism to the point of becoming completely oblivious to community and social factors. For Klinenberg these were factors that ultimately helped some avoid death and resulted in others dying.

In 2004, a time when latte-drinking intellectual pundits were celebrating the end of history and extolling the virtues of a "flat" world of economic globalization, Jacobs ominously predicted a coming age of urban crisis, mass amnesia, and populist backlash.

A more recent review said Jacobs' 2004 book "serves as a survivors’ guide to the Age of Trump."

One serious concern about the Neoliberals is expressed by Jacobs in her assertion that "cultural xenophobia" leads to “a fortress mentality.” A fortress is a tool of war.

As we know the Trump administration appears paranoid when it comes to trade. There is no open acknowledgment that when your military is shooting at your existing and potential customers, it’s very difficult to serve and be served by those same individuals. Open trade makes war less likely.

The Neoliberals have monetized warfare directly by privatizing it - not by selling goods to the military as in pre-1980's wars - but by privatizing the military. As I noted in a previous post former Navy Seal Erik Prince,who founded the firm of Blackwater USA now known as Academi - the American private military company - is the brother of  Betsy DeVos, the Trump nominee for Education Secretary who advocates privatizing education.

So one potential Neoliberal response to a biosphere disruption crisis is the fun and profitable distraction of war. The upside of war is that it reduces the problem of human overpopulation that contributes to the biosphere disruption.

Before closing out this series, how technology used by a huge human population affects the biosphere disruptions deserves further review.

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