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Blind Faith as Profit Engine: How Free Market Worshipers Use Christian Utopianism to Bilk the Middle Class

Posted by on Oct. 14, 2012 at 3:07 AM
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1 mom liked this
The neoliberal utopianism that caused the financial crisis has been repackaged for the 2012 election, where it masks a giant swindle that transfers wealth from low- and middle-income citizens to bankers, defense contractors, real estate speculators and the wealthiest 1%.




In the endless swirl of headlines about the current global financial crisis, the dominant narrative, which is also driving the 2012 US presidential election, is that crippling amounts of public debt run up by profligate government spending have brought us to the brink of financial ruin and must be offset by deep cuts in social services and "entitlements."

It is a false narrative that masks the largest ongoing financial swindle in human history, a swindle being carried out at public expense by a small class of elite financial speculators. This speculative class has been unleashed over the past three decades by a Utopian neoliberal political project now embodied in its most virulent form in the Republican presidential ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Let's start with the depth and size of the underlying financial crisis, which is almost in the realm of hyper-reality. In 1997, for example, the total value of annual financial transactions worldwide was an already-staggering 15 times greater than global GDP. Today, it is 70 times greater. (1) In 1995, the six largest US banks controlled assets worth 17 percent of annual GDP. Today, the figure is 64 percent. (2) Again in 1995, the global total of outstanding derivative debt obligations was $17.7 trillion. By 2010, at nearly $470 trillion, outstanding derivatives were 741 percent of global GDP. (3)

This wholesale financialization of the US-led global economy has burdened the public sector with the task of propping up unregulated speculative debt in the private sector that is 7.4 times our annual productive capacity. Add US deficit spending for three wars since 9/11, and major cuts in the top tax rates, and the burden becomes unsustainable. The difference is being made up in the guise of austerity, as everything we own is liquidated, from personal and retirement savings, to homes and public-sector assets that have been built up over generations.

In the US, the inexorable logic of this process is embedded in the numbers that comprise the national debt. By most estimates, the national debt is at least $15 trillion.(4) Here is one way to understand where the money went.

The US government spent $7.4 trillion on bank bailouts. (5)
It then spent $5 trillion for three elective wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. (6)
It simultaneously incurred $2.8 trillion in lost revenue due to the Bush tax cuts for the top income brackets. (7)

The $15.2 trillion total of reckless government giveaways and war spending equals the national debt. Where did this money come from? It came from we the people. During the current economic downturn:

US citizens suffered $14 trillion in lost stock market value, declining home values and lost pension fund values. (8) (9)
Workers lost $1 trillion in wages due to long-term unemployment. (10)

The total losses to citizen wealth are also $15 trillion.

From this perspective, the ongoing financial crisis of the past few years is a giant swindle that transfers wealth from low- and middle-income citizens to bankers, defense contractors, real estate speculators and the wealthiest 1% via the US Treasury, which is acting as an agent for upward redistribution.

To give a comparative sense for the historic scale of the swindle, it is worth noting that the entire inflation-adjusted cost of World War II was $3.6 trillion.(11)

How did this happen?

In the 1980s, US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher set out to reconfigure and liberate Western capitalism by shrinking government's role in the economy based on the neoliberal concept that markets are "self-regulating" and would produce unprecedented societal wealth if deregulated. Using the ideas of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek of the famed Austrian School as macro-economic underpinning, Reagan and Thatcher sought to limit or eliminate government regulation that might inhibit the actions and movement of capital.

From the start of this Reagan-Thatcher revolution, the "trickle down" theory of wealth was accompanied by promises of a smaller, less intrusive state, except for a strong military. Fast forward through 30-plus years of nearly uninterrupted neoliberal policymaking - Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were deregulating neoliberal champions - and not only do we have the most expensive, heavily militarized, war-prone, increasingly inequitable and intrusive state in US (and British) history, it is also the most indebted.

Neoliberalism is failing on its own terms, yet it continues to define US politics due to its appeal among a sizable and particularly fervent segment of the electorate. (12)

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to understand the fervor of this continued popular support for failed policies, it is important to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neoliberal ideology. In the neoliberal worldview, the self-regulating market is not a merely human construct, but a form of naturally-occurring "spontaneous order" that produces optimum outcomes and maximum individual freedom if left completely unfettered. (13) It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in "The Great Transformation," a radically utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that markets are essentially part of the natural order. (14)

On the political right, this faith has reached its fullest expression, ultimately moving markets into the realm of the sacred, where their legitimacy cannot be questioned. In this utopian setting, regulation is not merely ill advised; it is a violation of natural law that is nearly sacrilegious. Witness, for example, the reactionary explosion on the right to the apostasy of Barack Obama's health care plan to regulate the insurance cartels.

Although this pernicious sacralization of the self-regulating market is absurd on its face - modern markets being embedded in particular cultures and dependent on enormous government intervention and expenditures, full of frictions and totally absent the perfect information required by economic models - it has nonetheless turned out to have powerful allure even among those who are being swindled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the reasons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism's utopian market fundamentalism meshes so readily with utopian strains of fundamentalist Christianity, thereby lending the neoliberal project a zealous sense of populist mission. A neoliberal class project is dressed up and sold as a patriotic religious project.

While those at the top with access to policymakers reap enormous financial benefits from their embrace of neoliberal theology, many of those at the bottom who stand to lose the most economically join forces with them because of political appeals to their utopian religious and patriotic beliefs. Neoliberal presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have come before voters as kindred utopian spirits, true believers couching their self-regulating market utopianism in the familiar and compelling language of patriotism, individual freedom, mom and pop entrepreneurism and religion. ('Believe in America.') Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly reality is that neoliberal markets - unlike the elegant models of classical economics - are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealthiest members of society. Income disparity between the bottom and top 20 percent in the US has more than doubled since 1979. (15) Income for the top 1 percent grew by 275 percent from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bottom 20 percent grew just 18 percent. (16)

The US now has 49.1 million people living in poverty, the highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930's. (17) Yet among true believers at both ends of the economic spectrum, the powerful emotional pull of a shared utopian vision transcends the homely realities of the fact-based world.

Utopians at the Gate

In the 2012 US presidential election, the Republican Romney-Ryan ticket represents the triumph of neoliberal utopian faith over the messy realities of experience and history. There has been much discussion about the political calculations of Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, but it seems entirely plausible that he was picked because he is a kindred utopian spirit.

Born to wealth and privilege, Romney's utopian worldview was formed among the high priests in the secretive and cloistered worlds of the Mormon Church and equity capital markets. At every turn in his insular pilgrim's path, Romney's utopian economic and religious beliefs have been reinforced in untroubled environments far removed from the struggles of daily life. He can change positions at will because his overriding utopian faith remains untouched irrespective of the particulars of individual policy prescriptions.

Also born to wealth, Ryan was a youthful devotee of neoliberal founding fathers von Mises and Hayek, supplementing his market faith with the culturally corrosive, ego-centered atheism of Ayn Rand, until the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, representing his professed Catholic faith, publicly objected to the cruelty and inhumanity of his 2011 US budget proposals.

The bishops described Ryan's budget as being antithetical to their call to create "a circle of protection" around the poor and vulnerable. With his tea-vangelical base of support threatened, Ryan quickly discovered St. Thomas Aquinas as a more appropriate religious vehicle for channeling his market utopianism. (18)

The presentation of the Romney-Ryan ticket by the Republican Party tells us that the path to utopia is stony and difficult, as it should be. Reaching the neoliberal Promised Land requires sacrifice. In order to scale the utopian summit, we must cast out the unbelievers (Obama, Democrats, liberals, environmentalists, feminists, et al.) and balance the divine books with the purifying fire of "austerity," the neoliberal equivalent of self-flagellation.

Austerity-mandated cuts in vital public services must be accompanied by ever-increasing tax reductions for the top income brackets - aka, the priestly class of "job creators" - thus intentionally accelerating the insolvency of the iniquitous public sector. Someone has to pay for the extravagant incomes, lifestyles and war profiteering of the oracular speculative class in order to keep the swindle going, and it turns out to be us.

Where does this lead?

Were Romney and Ryan to be elected in November, it is probable that some of their more radical policy pronouncements would be constrained by the realities of Washington. (19) Yet there is something disquieting about the seriousness with which they embrace discredited utopian ideals. Fascism has been described as "a utopian movement in search of a utopia." (20) Today's Republican Party, headed by true believers Romney and Ryan, comes dangerously close to this description.

Polanyi postulated three essential elements of Western consciousness: knowledge of death; knowledge of freedom; and knowledge of society, which is gained experientially and liberates us from our utopian illusions. (21) The Republicans of 2012 are in denial about this third element of consciousness.

The certainty that comes from faith in an immanent utopia leaves them unable to acknowledge and deal with the enormous complexities and uncertainties of a modern multi-cultural, information-age society, except through demonization and the story of an idol defiled. As a result, the commonweal is eclipsed by a divisive utopian vision that defines extreme religious economic individualism as true patriotic freedom. Romney's recent comments dismissing the lives of half the electorate offer a clear illustration of the utopian incapacity to deal with society as it exists. (22)

Given the billions in Super PAC money now available to Republicans, (23) this utopian strain in US politics is not likely to fade away irrespective of November's election results, and that is a troubling realization in a nation more heavily armed with weapons of mass destruction than any other in history. (24)



For endnotes, go to http://truth-out.org/news/item/12044-blind-faith-as-profit-engine-how-free-market-worshipers-use-christian-utopianism-to-bilk-the-middle-class
by on Oct. 14, 2012 at 3:07 AM
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MomGoneGreen470
by on Oct. 14, 2012 at 3:22 AM
Wow you are just as good as Obama in twisting the story.
Just for you... President Obama has emulated Lenin in striving to increase state control over such “commanding heights” of our economy as energy,health care, finance,and education,with smaller forays into food,transportation and undoubtedly some areas I am overlooking.

Besides mimicking some of Lenin’s policy strategies, Obama also has adopted Karl Marx’s strategies for gradually socializing an economy. Before I spell out the Marxian nature of many of Obama’s policies, let me emphasize that I am not calling Obama a “Marxist-Leninist, period.” “Marxist-Leninist” connotes the brutal totalitarian police state of the late, unlamented Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. There is no comparison between Barack Obama’s statism and the genocidal, gulag-riddled regime of the Soviet Communists. That being said, Obama’s economic program is taken directly, if not deliberately, from the Marxist-Leninist playbook, and on that basis one may say that Obama tends toward Marxist-Leninist economics. Besides adopting the Leninist strategy of seeking greater control over the commanding heights of the economy, if one reviews Marx’s 10-point platform for how to socialize a country’s economy in stages (“The Communist Manifesto,” chapter two), one finds that Team Obama and his congressional progressive allies have taken actions to further the goals laid out in all 10 of the planks in the Marx platform.

CITED - MARK HENDRICKSON, Published 7/26/2012, President Obama's Marxist-Leninist Economics: Fact And Fiction, FORBES.COM, Retrieved 10/12/2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/markhendrickson/2012/07/26/president-obamas-marxist-leninist-economics-fact-and-fiction/
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Goodwoman614
by Satan on Oct. 14, 2012 at 3:40 AM
1 mom liked this
Like omg....Obama's a C - C - C - cccccom -U - nissst!!!
He rilly is, I tell ya!

. ~ ... ~ ... ~ ... ~ ... ~ .

Derrrrp.
(Shhh! Don't tell her she just nominated herself as case-in-point)
Goodwoman614
by Satan on Oct. 14, 2012 at 4:24 AM

BUMP!

gsprofval
by Silver Member on Oct. 14, 2012 at 4:40 AM

The nay-sayers who don't think obama is a Marxist-communist may be in for a very rude awakening.

radioheid
by Libertarian on Oct. 14, 2012 at 1:17 PM
3 moms liked this

 Might be fun to play a drinking game while slowly reading this piece. One shot every time the words "utopian" or "neoliberal" appear. Then again, you'd probably die of alcohol poisoning long before you made it even halfway through the essay, lol.

This is probably one of the worst political essays I have ever read due to the author's complete lack of objectivity, and the excessive use of key "buzz" words which prove the author's bias.


"Roger that. Over."

R   A   D    I    O    H    E    I    D

futureshock
by Ruby Member on Oct. 14, 2012 at 1:27 PM
4 moms liked this

Thank-you for posting this interesting and informative article.  It explains why many corporations are having unprecedented profits and the stock market is soaring all while most people are suffering economically.  I guess their ideas are working just fine, they are getting the outcome they sought.  The rich are getting much, much richer.

Goodwoman614
by Satan on Oct. 14, 2012 at 1:59 PM

BUMP!

grandmab125
by Gold Member on Oct. 14, 2012 at 5:56 PM

This is a joke, right?  Who thought up this bizarre theory?  It really takes some twisted thinking to tie being raised in the Mormon faith, to a man running for president who has a financial  plan to try to get this country back on its feet, is for smaller government, thinks companies, small businesses, individuals should be creating jobs, not the gov't..... 

 

katzmeow726
by Platinum Member on Oct. 14, 2012 at 8:54 PM
1 mom liked this

Two shots every time you come across a word where the author probably used the thesaurus feature on Word to find a "more impressive" word to use.  

Quoting radioheid:

 Might be fun to play a drinking game while slowly reading this piece. One shot every time the words "utopian" or "neoliberal" appear. Then again, you'd probably die of alcohol poisoning long before you made it even halfway through the essay, lol.

This is probably one of the worst political essays I have ever read due to the author's complete lack of objectivity, and the excessive use of key "buzz" words which prove the author's bias.


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NWP
by guerrilla girl on Oct. 14, 2012 at 9:30 PM
2 moms liked this

Interesting article Goodwoman. It explains the doctrine of the cult of the Uber Wealthy well.

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