Too often I find that my most intense venom is spewed at those closest to me, at those with whom my disagreement would seem nearly indiscernible (and hence the need for rage--it makes it affectively perceptible). On one hand, this is a fault of my training as a political theorist: coming out of the Frankfurt tradition, I was taught to engage in immanent critique. Why spend time attacking those with whom you share no fundamental precepts? Where does it take you? How does it further knowledge or understanding? On the other hand, this kind of approach seems to let one's enemies off the hook. They don't need even to defend themselves because no one is attacking.
In the interest, then, of attacking those who deserve to be defeated, and in the interest of reminding myself and others that the bad guys really are out there and dangerous, here is the first in what I think might be a new feature highlighting the interconnections between neoliberalism and fascism.
One last prefatory remark: I think it is important to recognize that fascism (forms of contemporary conservatism) is a result of neoliberal thought. It is not simply a supplement that aims to save neoliberalism from itself. So, even as forms of religious fundamentalism provide supplements to the extremes of neoliberalism, neoliberalism on its own has horribly conservative effects. The passage below comes from:
Every successful society has devised ways of separating incompetent or systematically unlucky people from the control of valuable resources. (That's why civilized nations provide children and legally incompetent individuals with guardians and trustees.) This is an essential process for all but the most wealthy of nations, e.g., those cursed by great oil wealth. (This windfall wealth situation is the national analogue of individuals winning the lottery; a harbinger of bad things that follow the lack of a need to husband resources.)
A society's economic success is increased if it has sure and quick ways to accomplish this separation, however painful to those who suffer losses. While there will be political pressures to buffer folks from the consequences of economic folly or bad luck, it is socially dangerous to do so. Reality checks should have force, so that those who fail to prudently manage resources will not keep control over them.
Let's identify the problems with the passage. First, failure is a matter of incompetence or bad luck. Although bad luck is qualified with the term 'systemic,' the writer's flip attitude overlooks systemic forms of exclusion like race, sex, or citizenship. It occludes as well the impact of inherited wealth (a form of the systemic protection of the incompetent) and generational poverty. Second, incompetence and bad luck are equated with being civilized. To be unlucky, then, is to be childlike, immature, incompetence, and barbaric (attributes long associated with justifications for colonialism). I'm going to skip the section on oil wealth, although I would think that people with more knowledge of the Middle East and the ways that the Mid East figures in neoliberal rhetoric would have interesting things to add here.
The first paragraph, then, says that failure is inevitable because some people are stupid and unlucky and that successful societies have to keep these incompetents away from valuable resources. Historically what are the ways that the incompetent have been kept from resources? Well, some have been sterilized, when resources were thought of in terms of future generations and ethnic purity. Others are barred from owning property or signing contracts, when resources are thought of in terms of property. And, still others are barred from voting or holding office, when resources are conceived in terms of rights to participate in government.
We should add here an additional fantastic element: the author does not allow that the economic system itself requires and produces failures. He overlooks, deliberately, the fact that the very point of a competitive market is to create losers (as well as winners). In fact, more companies and enterprises fail than succeed. But the author mystifies this point by implying that all bad outcomes are the result of incompetence rather than key elements and presuppositions of the system.
The second paragraph seems to worry that even these kinds of measures are too soft. No matter how painful it is to be a loser, society is better off if the losers are dealt with, separated off quickly and securely. I wonder, does he mean that they should be shipped off to concentration camps, herded into ghettos, or exterminated? And, how do we really know who the prudent are? Should Kenneth Lay and all the other corporate bad guys be placed into camps for life? Are these the imprudent ones (readers will see from the article that the author has in mind folks who have gotten screwed in the housing bubble)? What about the entire Bush administration? They've lost billions and billions of dollars. That seems pretty imprudent to me.
But, the author doesn't mean these corporate evil-doers. Nope. He wants to exterminate the poor. He thinks it is good social policy to let those who have been screwed by corporate malfeasance, greed, and the pursuit of profit die a quick death. It's like a contemporary version of exposing infants. Or eating the poor.