This is a shameless, rough translation from a newspaper article. I thought it might be nice to see some “other perspectives”, if I may be so patronising.
Neoliberalism presents themselves as a matter of course. It is the system that occurs when the government let things run their course, the natural situation. The average neoliberal sees himself as a realist. The dreamers are the others. He cherishes no illusions, he knows that man is in essence just let unrelenting self-serving.
In his recent book “The utopia of the free market” the philosopher Achterhuis makes it convincingly clear that this is a fallacy. Neo-liberalism, like communism, is an utopia: a doctrine based on a schematic and highly idealized worldview.
Achterhuis, who since the seventies with some regularity tore down established opinions is hardly slowing sown since since his retirement in 2007. Less than two years after his last book, full of criticism of fallacies in leftist intellectuals thinking, there is another new book.
In “The utopia of the free market”, he again demonstrates an unprecedented eagerness. He sucks in everything from newspapers to books and makes no distinction between the great philosopher Michel Foucault and Times reporter Peter de Waard. Both make him think and so both are mentioned in his book. Achterhuis is not afraid to look at is own thinking in a critical way.
This time he takes the blame on himself that it took so long before he saw that neoliberalism was an utopia. “What I knew very well theoretically, but in practice di not realize was that every ideology presents itself as an inevitable and natural view of reality. Thus it remains largely invisible. It is the glasses that almost everyone wears. ”
Neo-liberalism, like communism, is a creation, emerged from a group of fanatical believers who – like Lenin and his faithful – succeeded in spreading their vision over a large part of the world. It lifted one of the many instruments of social organization, the market, to a sacred principle.
The main ideologue of neoliberalism is a woman according to Achterhuis: Ayn Rand (1905-1982). She is born in 1905 in St. Petersburg named Alissa Rosenbaum. The October Revolution, twelve years later, brings the Rosenbaum family to beggary. The family members wander for years through Russia and Alissa learns to hate communism and socialism. In 1926 she was given the chance to travel to the United States and she would never come back.
In the United States, she creates a unique philosophy: Objectivism and she wrote a book, Atlas Shrugged, in which she describes her favorite society. In Europe, the book never reached a large public, but in the United States it is considered by many the most important book after the Bible.
In Rand’s utopia it is the individual first. The collective, the idea that you help each other, has been eradicated. Charity does not exist. The Robin Hood in the story, Ragnar Danneskjöld, robs Government ships to give the money back to the exploited super-capitalists. And workers self control is seen as no less than a crime against humanity. “Remember this – remember it well – it is not often that you’re face to face with undiluted evil.”
Also sexually, anyone in Atlantis can follow just their own interest. The main character has passionate affairs with three male protagonists. While making love, no shared, collective interests may be pursued. Sex is there for personal pleasure and certainly not because you want to express the love for one another. “Her sex scenes often come across as semi-rape” writes Achterhuis.
Rand brings her sexual ideal in practice. She has an 18 years long affair with Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist who, according to the doctrine of Objectivism, is to be considered a superman. If he decides to exchange Rand for a much younger sample, the great philosopher is less rational than could be expected from “Atlas Shrugged”. Branden is expelled from the group and a smear campaign is started.
If the Rand was the Karl Marx of neoliberalism , Alan Greenspan was Lenin. The later president of the Fed, the U.S. central bank, at the age of 26 came into contact with the close circle of Ayn Rand Objectivists and was almost immediately a believer. He also believed strongly in a “capitalism with minimal government intervention as the ideal form of social organization”.
In Alan young revolutionary sentiments rose. “I took part in the nights of passionate debates and wrote commentaries for her newsletter with the fervor of a young disciple who is attracted to a whole new set of ideas,” Greenspan writes about it himself.
His love for Rand went well. New friends were always immediately introduced to her and when Branden was excommunicated, Greenspan, in the best Soviet tradition, signed a letter in which he stated that no longer would maintain any contact with Branden.
For Rand, Greenspan is the bridge to the government in Washington. He is a key economic adviser to Republican presidents Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In 1987, it culminates when Reagan appointed him president of the Fed. In that capacity he can manipulate the entire world to his will. And he does. He keeps interest rates too low for 19 years, allowing the free market to flourish more than ever. Greenspan makes no attempt to rein in market forces.
In the early seventies the first country converted itself to the new faith: Chile. The consequences are disastrous at first: the economy shrinks 15 percent and unemployment rose to 20 percent.
Faced with this misery, Milton Friedman, another major neo-liberal, shows a reflex that was also often observed in communists. If economic performance was disappointing, it was not because communism was no good. No, the real reason was of course that it is not Communist enough. According to Friedman, the only solution that Chile should be more neoliberal. “The only medicine. Absolutely. There is no other. ”
The former Soviet Union is also to be converted overnight according to the new utopians. Public Properties fall into the hands of a new class of super-capitalists. Factories from one day to another are closed, many women saw no other option than to prostitute themselves. Pensions were wiped out in one blow and life expectancy is falling rapidly.
The pain is so great that even Alan Greenspan also doubts his faith – there are no social services to be created? – But he recovers quickly. “If we succeed we must break completely with the past.”
Many neo-liberals show the same perseverance and emotionless nature as Ceausescu when Romanian villages were destroyed and everyone had to live in large flats. Or, as Mao was with his Cultural Revolution, wanted the final clean-up. “Only when the downfall and destruction of the old world is complete, is it possible for them build the new economy of the utopian free-market capitalism,” writes Achterhuis.
In the Western world the the neoliberal revolution proceeds more gradual. Since the early nineties governments begin to retreat, state companies were privatized and subjected to market discipline.
The Netherlands, after Great Britain, is the greediest convert of all European countries to the New Thinking. The natural enemy of liberalism, social democracy turns itself off. In both countries the social democrats convert explicitly to the Third Way. They therefore no longer believe in a strong government, or anything collective, and believe much more good will come from the free market.
Sociakl democrat leader Wim Kok did not even notice that he is converted. He defends its own words just a ‘pragmatic’ and ‘realistic’ policy. Later, when he was commissioner at ING bank, and he agrees to a huge salary increase for the top, he not even acknowledges that as a change. Achterhuis has an explanation. “That Kok
(…) enriched himself to three times the prime ministers salary shows how far the ideological maelstrom can draw in a pronounced pragmatist. ”
The world view of the neo-liberals is as schematic as the worldview of the Communists. Both hold a limited and somewhat impoverished view of humanity. The Communists forget that the average person suffers from greedy and selfish instincts, so he’ll never sacrifice himself for a fully collective ideal. The neo-liberals forget that man also suffer from unselfish love, loyalty and compassion, and so be controlled by blind self-interest only. Both groups of revolutionaries presuppose a rationality that is alien to the average man. They do not see that there are irrational fears and desires. John Maynard Keynes, the great British economist, for example, saw this. He called them animal spirits, and because everyone is possessed with them, we need a strong government to take us – if necessary – on the right path.
Achterhuis finally draws the conclusion that neo-liberalism hasn’t done the world a lot of good. The upper and middle classes have certainly benefited – classes who saw their wealth and salaries only increase – the underclass pays the price.
He has been particularly persuaded by Marcel van Dam, who with his documentary “The Unprofitable” tried to show that large groups of Dutch are economically expelled, and by the British historian Robert Skidelsky, who compared the global economic growth in the period 1951-1980, when Keynesianism – that believes in a strong government – was the dominant economic trend to the period 1989 -2009, when neoliberalism conquered the world. In the first period, growth was 4.8 percent. After the glorious rise of the neo-liberals ran it fell to 3.2 percent. Achterhuis: “For me this was the definitive end to the utopian belief that I apparently still had in the economic performance of neoliberalism.”
We have not seen a major global revolt against the system so far. But perhaps it is because the ideology is now for the first time seriously tested by the current crisis. Will the neoliberal system within collapse in a few years yet with a thunderous roar? Or will the economy recover just wonderfully with the natural resilience a neoliberal economy has according to its proponents. The verdict is not out yet.
That is no reason for Achterhuis to advocate revolution or for the old Keynesianism system to be restored. He hopes that the world slowly adjusts and that the “ideological vacuum on the left of the political spectrum” is filled. At the end of the book he attempt to do so. The key to the solution lies not in the market or the government – then there is the risk that a new utopia is chosen – but in the people. “We citizens can change more than we think.”