Monday, 13 February 2012

The fevered fantasies of the 'free' market fundamentalists

Yesterday the Greek people were betrayed by their political class, who put the bailing out of bond-holders and French and German banks above the needs of the Greek people. The madness of austerity continues and condemns the Greek people to years of pain and misery with a debt which can never be repaid. The Greek economy has contracted by 15% and unemployment has now reached 20%, homelessness is growing, and people are struggling to get access to healthcare. Undoubtedly, much of the pain which is being caused to delay the inevitable Greek default, is happening to enable the banks to get into a better state, and as we now know, banks are more important than people in neoliberal Europe.

But how did we get here? We have had 30 years of neoliberal economic failure. That is the real cause of this tragedy - a failed economic policy based on the triumphalism of the 'free' market, and a class war waged on the relatively  prosperous citizens of the west, as capitalism tries to maintain its failing profitability by taking away the healthcare, pensions, and livelihoods of western citizens. The origins of this neoliberal assault lie in the 1970's, in the Chicago School of economics and the Washington Consensus, implemented initially through Reaganomics in the USA and Thatcherism in the UK.

Despite the growing crisis caused by this ideology, and the recognition by many economists that neoliberalism doesn't work, the 'free' market right are telling the people of the west that the only cure is "more of the same". The prescription is killing the patient, but like mad scientists, the neoliberalists insist that yet harsher treatment is needed. Why is it that these 'free' market acolytes are so confident that their failed and discredited policies are the only way out of the crisis we are in? The answer is simple; these people are fanatics. Their 'economic' policy for rule by the market is not so much economic policy, nor even an ideology but much more a system of belief.

The supremacy of the 'free' market has become a fundamentalist cult, and its adherents represent a far greater threat to the safety and well-being of the global population than Al Qaeda or the Taliban. The origins of this fundamentalism were explained in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, a documentary by Adam Curtis originally shown on BBC. The 'guru' of the 'free' market cult, who occupies a similar position in relation to the 'free' market fundamentalists, as L Ron Hubbard does to the Scientologists, is Ayn Rand. Rand espoused a philosophy of extreme selfishness, and was responsible for writing a best selling book which is the 'free' market bible, Atlas Shrugged. In this novel, which bears about as much relation to reality as Lord of the Rings, the 'most productive' members of society, who are entrepreneurs, naturally, decide to go on strike (on strike??) because they are being oppressed by high taxes, and regulations. The message is clear: society depends upon a small group of wealth creators, and without them we would all still be living in caves. Because of their obvious superiority such people ought to be treated differently to the rest of us and afforded the special privilege of great wealth and low taxes - does that sound familiar? Of course this fantasy is manna from heaven for the rich, and the apparatchicks of the Tea Party, which is why Atlas Shrugged is still a bestseller in the USA. But don't laugh, because Rand has been, and still is, very influential. One of her followers was Alan Greenspan, who was chairman of the US Federal Reserve in the lead up to the 2008 crash. So, the next time you see one of the peddlers of 'free' market fundamentalism on Question Time, you need to understand that they represent a very real threat to your well-being and prosperity.

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