"If Hillary Clinton is a feminist, I'm a Franciscan fighter pilot. She's a me-first, mean-spirited male impersonator."
(Last episode, we began our explication of neoliberalism. Going to motive . . .)
The Neoliberal Theology
Two aspects of neoliberalism comprise the background for the coups: its ideology and its practice. Ideology first.
The ideology is the sum of the public arguments in defense of the practice, and the repetition of those arguments until they appear axiomatic.
Ideology is defined as “an orientation that characterizes the thinking of a group or nation,” but the main thing to remember is that successful ideology appears as mere common sense. The claims of ideology are not fashioned to represent actual practices. The purpose of ideology – if public understanding of the practice is likely to engender resistance to power – is to simultaneously conceal that power and ensure that same concealed power’s day-to-day reproduction.
For example, when freedom is defined as a monetary consumer choice, this unquestioned premise conceals the power of the ultimate-winners in this transaction (Wal-Mart, for example, or Chevron) when you exercise this “choice,” and suggests that buying (“choosing”) something is actually a meaningful exercise of personal liberty and empowerment – which encourages people to continue with the same consumption patterns, ensuring the continued power of the ultimate-winners.
The dominant ideology is “hegemonic,” meaning that most people have so internalized the basic assumptions of the ideology that they are seen as “common sense,” placing those assumptions beyond our critical attention. Hegemonic ideas and practices are embedded in culture. Successful ideology is hegemonic ideology. The actual rules no longer require external persuasion or force; they have been extensively internalized by most people as “the way things are.”
Neoliberal arguments, because they are hegemonic, sound very familiar. They are about the hidden hand of the market, and how it shakes society out as a just and flourishing meritocracy. “Free market” is a kind of benevolent god that we ought to thank for its abundance. And neoliberalism discursively constructs itself as inevitable: Maggie Thatcher’s claim, “There is no alternative.” The TINA-fallacy.
Ideological givens are then available to support propaganda – and propaganda is a weapon during military-political operations, like coups d’etat. Propaganda is one weapon in a coordinated attack, and not as representative of any species of truth. Truth is incidental to public pronouncements by governments and institutions. The purpose of official public pronouncements is not representative, but persuasive.
See What They Say – Hear What They Want
President Bush’s suggestions that Iraq was behind the World Trade Center attacks of 2001 was not designed to convey a reality, but to gain either approval or acquiescence from the public for a war. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the coup in Honduras, she did so without calling it a coup. This was to ensure that the ultimate outcome – President Manuel Zelaya’s removal – would not be seen as consolidation of the coup (and calling it a coup would trigger the law to cut off US aid to Honduras).
She publicly promised Zelaya that he would be returned to office. This bought time until the coup-makers could finesse the idea of a post-coup election (without Zelaya) was tantamount to “reconciliation and re-commitment to democratic values.”
The public pronouncement was designed to have an effect different from representation of truth. That is why it is a mistake – in basic logic – to give public officials and business people and institutional spokespersons, the presumption of credibility. Yet this unfounded presumption is precisely what mass media provide to those pronouncements. In order to understand what these pronouncements mean, one has to – like a P.D. James detective – unmask the motives.
Isis Obed Murillo, 19, killed by Hondurans soldiers
Key point to remember: When you read or hear public pronouncements by public figures, look at what the words are intended to accomplish. Do not presume they are telling the truth. These pronouncements are crafted in order to gain support for or acquiescence to an agenda.
What’s the Motive?
I find it remarkable that nobody has pointed out that Adam Smith did not say what neoliberals repeat when they count him as their patron saint. His aim, like that of subsequent classical reformers, was to free society from privatized land rent, monopoly rents, and financial interest and fees.
-Michael HudsonPractically, neoliberalism has been the construction of a transnational capitalist alliance – with the US first among equals. Politically and economically, it is a world system now, under the direction of the United States, and based on a combination of the size of the US economy, US military power and disposition, and the dominant position of the US currency in world markets.
In terms of practical emphasis, neoliberal policies have been developed to facilitate interpenetration of national markets. This seems superficially fair until one compares the size of many local enterprises abroad and their capital markets with the size of the transnational corporations that are seeking entry into those markets.
Honduras’ entire GDP for 2009 was $13.34 billion. AT&T’s revenues from 2005 were $69.4 billion. Hondurans will not be buying out AT&T. AT&T, as we will see, did have its eye on Honduras, however.
So the abstract equality between actors in this rules-based regime recalls Anatole France’s acerbic observation,
“The law in its majestic equality forbids rich as well as poor from begging in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and stealing bread.”
Thomas Carlyle called economics “the dismal science.” Dismal is right, and our next subject is as dismal as it is significant. To “”dismal” we might add the adjective “wrong,” since economists have never accurately described what happened in the past, what is happening now, or guessed what might happen in the future. This is science’s purview, and whatever economics is, it is not science. And as dismal and misleading as the topic can be, we have to go there. Because money is at the heart of the whole system.
Neoliberalism is a now the world-system.
World system (definition): a historical and sociological approach to political economy with a belief in the importance of interdependency and the global systemic structure and connected processes.
-Paul ImgramEmphasis on interdependency – all nations now depend on the same system to some degree – and that system’s constituent processes. So as we read along about neoliberalism, we are adopting a framework for analysis that says stay alert for two actors being dependent on each other in different and very unequal ways, and stay alert for things that connect people, places, institutions, and actions on a world stage.
Begin by thinking of the global political economy (a different term than “economics”) as a great meshwork of lines of communication along which which things, people, value, and power move. In this meshwork, as in the webs of some spiders, there is a hub, like the hub on the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
The financial “hub” for the neoliberal world system is on Wall Street. All lines go through that hub. And Wall Street eats what it catches. This dominant financial regime is at Wall Street, New York, instead of Tokyo or Paris, because the United States – a territorial political entity – is where the power comes from. This is a nation with an almost $15 trillion annual GDP, and a more expensive military than all the other militaries in the world combined, and bases in a thousand places around the world, spread over 156 nations.
The United States dollar is the national currency of this behemoth.
The current system combines the power of the United States, and its currency, the dollar, with the power of Wall Street as a transnational actor. The direction this partnership has taken is commonly called “globalization.” A more accurate term might be “global financialization,” about which we’ll go into more detail.
The late Peter Gowan, in his book The Globalization Gamble, refers to the current system as the Dollar-Wall Street Regime. We will use that shorthand the same way he did: to mean the managerial activities of the world system as it is right now.
[A] New Wall Street System has emerged in the US during this period [the last three decades], producing new actors, new practices and new dynamics. The resulting financial structure-cum-agents has been the driving force behind the present crisis. En route, it proved spectacularly successful for the richest groups in the US: the financial sector constituted by far the most profitable component of the American and British economies and their most important ‘export’ earner. In 2006, no less than 40 per cent of American corporate profits accrued to the financial sector.
The twin-pillars of this financial regime are:
(1) Wall Street’s global dominance in financial markets, and
(2) the hegemonic position of the US dollar, which allows the US – who holds the most dollars – to run up debts to other countries which is has neither the ability nor the intention of paying.
(Hillary Clinton and Wall Street love each other. Clinton is a neoliberal.)
Wall Street attacks other nation’s currencies as part of this managerial practice, and those attacks have proven catastrophic. Crashing an economy is a powerful message.
Central banks abroad need to hold dollar-denominated assets as currency reserves. These reserves give the central banks dollars to buy back their own currency if is endangered. Central banks now hold dollar reserves to defend themselves from future speculative attacks on their own currencies.
This effectively ties them to the strength of the dollar. If they sell their dollars down, they wipe out the purchasing power of their own central bank reserves; and when the US decides periodically, which it does, to strategically devalue the dollar, the US can wipe out a significant fraction of the purchasing power of its own debt. All other nations can do then is sit on the sidelines and fume.
Neoliberalism should not be seen metaphorically as a conscious, self-interested being. It is a self-organized, and supra-intentional system in which its own leaders are obliged to seek its perpetuation. To grasp it, we need several handles: historical development, ideology, institutions, enforcement methods, financialization and volatility, military action, “dollar hegemony,” food dependency, and a host of others. Several good books are available on the topic. Since ours is a brief background account, we will focus on the constant: motive.
Who is motivated to do what?
When I was in the army, there was one part of an operations order that superseded all others, because it conveyed – apart from the planning minutiae – the commander’s intent. That sub-subparagraph is called “desired end state.” It meant, regardless of how wrong the rest of our plans are, and no matter how many contingencies change everything about how we are to get this done, this is what we want to make into a fact on the ground. We will occupy this coordinate, these people will be dead, we will collect this specific information, or that bridge will no longer be passable. It is that goal, that desired end state, which serves as the magnetic-north to which all compasses then point.
This is the constant, and therefore the key category: motive. The rest of the categories revolve around that constant.
The motive behind neoliberalism is perpetuation of ruling class power and American international power, and the mechanics are fourfold: capture competitor nations in an American-dominated system, exploit the markets of weaker nations, ensure net flows of wealth from peripheral nations to sustain US consumption, and lock peripheral nations into debt and dependency as leverage to control how they do business.
If this is the what, then history can help us to infer the why as well.
NEXT TIME - A short history of neoliberlism
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