By Monbiot, George
CCPA Monitor , Vol. 14, No. 5
For the first time, consumer debt in Britain has exceeded the total of the country's gross national product. In the United States, 77,000 bridges have been found to be in the same perilous state as the one in Minneapolis that collapsed into the Mississippi. Two years after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, 120,000 people there are still living in trailer homes and temporary lodgings. As runaway climate change approaches, governments refuse to take the necessary action. Widening inequality threatens to create the most divided societies the world has seen since before the First World War. A financial crisis caused by unregulated lending could turf hundreds of thousands out of their homes and trigger a cascade of economic troubles.
These problems appear unrelated, but they all have something in common. They arise in large part from a meeting that took place 60 years ago in a Swiss spa resort. That meeting laid the foundations for a philosophy of government that is responsible for many-perhaps most-of our contemporary crises.
When the Mont Pelerin Society first met, in 1947, its political project did not have a name. But it knew where it was going. The society's founder, Friedrich von Hayek, remarked that the battle for ideas would take at least a generation to win, but he knew that his intellectual army would attract powerful backers. Its philosophy, which later came to be known as neoliberalism, suited the interests of the ultra-rich, so the ultra-rich would pay for it.
Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property, and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by private enterprise, which will be prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services. By this means, enterprise is liberated, rational decisions are made, and citizens are freed from the dehumanizing hand of the state.
This, at any rate, is the theory. But, as David Harvey contends in his book A Brief History ofNeoliberalism, wherever the neoliberal program has been implemented, it has caused a massive shift of wealth-not just to the top 1%, but to the top tenth of the top 1%. In the U.S., for instance, the upper 0.1% has already regained the position it held at the beginning of the 1920s. The conditions that neoliberalism demands in order to free human beings from the slavery of the state-minimal taxes, the dismantling of public services and social security, deregulation, the breaking of the unions-just happen to be the conditions required to make the élite even richer, while leaving everyone else to sink or swim. In practice, the philosophy developed at Mont Pèlerin is little but an elaborate disguise for a wealth grab.
So the question is this: given that the crises I have listed are predictable effects of the dismantling of services and the deregulation of markets, given that it damages the interests of nearly everyone, how has neoliberalism come to dominate public life? …