David Kristjanson-Gural writes: The most significant accomplishment for Occupy Wall Street (OWS) to date is that the Occupiers have managed to poke a hole in the legitimacy of neoliberal capitalism and its central claim that unregulated markets provide opportunity and freedom.
The Occupiers have accomplished this feat in a surprising way, peacefully, with home-made signs, signs that say things like, “If I had a lobbyist, I wouldn’t need this sign.”
OWS has punctured the neoliberal façade simply by having the audacity to gather in public, in bold defiance of the police and to bear witness, by their solidarity and cooperation, to the idea that the Washington Consensus has long denied – that a different world is possible.
Phil Rockstroh puts it this way: “the walls of the neoliberal prison are cracking … We are no longer isolated, enclosed in our alienation, imprisoned by a concretized sense of powerlessness; daylight is beginning to pierce the darkness of our desolate cells.”
At the core of this neoliberal ideology is a simple assertion – economic exchanges promote freedom because they are voluntary and, thus, they only occur if both parties believe they will benefit. Unregulated market exchanges thus allow individuals to engage with others in complex social arrangements without coercion, without impinging on individual liberty. Government is needed, but only to define and enforce property rights and to create and regulate the currency individuals need to undertake market exchanges.
Liberal Keynesians, who argue for expanding government in order to regulate or oversee individual exchange, are denigrated because they seek to interrupt these free and voluntary agreements and they, therefore, undermine individual liberty. Reagan, who ushered in the neoliberal era, said it this way: “Government is not the solution to the problem; Government is the problem.” In this extreme libertarian view, capitalism is the champion of democracy, the champion of freedom.
The flaw in this neoliberal reasoning is not hard to see. Ownership of wealth obviously confers power; it gives some individuals an upper hand in the “voluntary” exchanges they make with others. Lacking the means otherwise to support ourselves, most of us must hire out our ability to do work in exchange for wages. We might do quite well if we are educated and talented, lucky or white, but even so, we ultimately produce more value than we are paid – that is, after all, the reason we are hired.
Wealth ownership, thus, gives an upper hand to employers in these voluntary exchanges with working people. The extra value we create flows steadily into the hands of wealth holders and we don’t have a say over what it is used for. [Continue reading…]