from Peter Radford
There’s not much to say. After all the brinkmanship and game playing over the debt limit last year, and after being ridiculed by pretty much everyone, the Republicans are back at it. In an election year and with last year’s plunge in the polls as evidence that voters just don’t agree with their tactics.
What am I missing?
The Republican extremist caucus in the House is setting its eyes on another confrontation with Obama over the debt ceiling. They want another deal. This after reneging on the last deal only a few days ago.
Are they kidding?
No they’re just extremists.
It is an ongoing shame, more a scandal, that our media doesn’t call this for what it is: a blatant effort at blackmail. This is not an attempt to negotiate in good faith. That deal busting effort to wiggle out of the cuts in defense spending are testimony to that stark fact that the Republicans in the house do not intend to stick to any deal they make. They simply want to batter their way through. They want to ignore the rules of democracy and ram through anti-social legislation.
By anti-social I mean they want to undo the entirety of the past seventy years of consensus driven policies that put in place a network of safety net, retirement and health legislation to protect the middle class and the poor from the vicissitudes of the marketplace. They want to defy history and plunge the vast majority of Americans back into a pre-Depression laissez-faire lifestyle. To do this they must overturn their own party’s contribution – the Republican mainstream for decades has accepted the presence of social programs and left them untouched. It took Reagan’s zealotry to start to crumble that bipartisan support of the welfare state.
It took the libertarian economic theories of people like Milton Friedman to give the attack intellectual heft. They were not the only enabler, but they played a vital part in igniting the fuse of the current explosion of extremism. Orthodox economists are disgraceful when they hide behind the convenient yet tattered veil of so-called positive economics. There was not a jot of positive thought. It was all pure ideology masquerading as science. The outcome of their models that supposedly “proved” the efficacy of free markets, and thus led to a torrent of ill-advised deregulation, was pre-ordained by their judicious choice of assumptions. The result was baked into the cake form the beginning. That’s not science. It’s scandal.
Why other economists are not more vocal about this collapse of ethics within their discipline I do not know. It is well known, and getting better known by the day, outside.
Let me be more clear about where I see the breakdown in ethics: it is not in holding to an ideology. That’s fair game in human affairs. The breakdown occurs in pretending to be proffering scientifically based advice and in avoiding to make clear the assumptions necessary to arrive at the conclusions upon which that advice was based. It is the lack of transparency that is stunning and deeply corrosive. It is a betrayal of confidence. It is a persistent duping of generations of students who believe that they have learned some solid insights, when, in fact, all they have learned is one side of a many sided argument.
This effort to mask the real agenda of orthodox theory – to undermine the social structures put in place over the past seventy years – and to re-make society in the image of the naive worlds within the models of orthodoxy is appalling. And has been incredibly successful.
The infection has spread across the social sciences. It has infected business schools. It manifests itself in the stock market. In banking. In business media. In think tanks. In large public institutions. In the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And in central banks most everywhere.
This hegemony of libertarian economics has been matched by a steady shift within the Republican party to the right. Sop far to the right that it now repudiates its own thinking and is trying to set out a new and wildly radical project to re-create an America long buried underneath the social, technological, and other advances of the past hundred years.
This radical libertarian vision threatens the foundation of modern society. This is because it denies modernity itself. Libertarianism at its core is based upon a few extraordinarily naive assumptions about human behavior and relationships. It harkens back to a simpler time before complex production, logistics, and management required equally complex regulatory structures. It tries to recapture a neo-agricultural lifestyle of rugged individuals, fiercely independent, unburdened by a central authority, and free to roam the landscape at will. It is a wistful throwback. Its intellectual forebears, many of whom hailed from central Europe, grew up at a time of great conflict and turmoil. They witnessed the collapse of the Austrian Empire and sought to explain the chaos around them. They never experienced the modernity of Britain, France, Germany, of the US at exactly that same moment. They crafted modern libertarianism as a response to the fusty, dying, and archaic regime of the Hapsburgs. They ignored the fact that other societies had already dealt with the issues in a less radical way.
The extremism they invented and justified sets itself as a dire opponent of central government. In the libertarian faith there is no democratic legitimacy to central government. It is always cast as an aggressive autocratic quasi-dictatorship that pillages and invades individual rights. This may have been true of Hapsburg Austria. It was not true of contemporary Britain nor the US.
The inability of libertarianism to re-mold itself as a modern value system – it remains deeply in denial of the democratic legitimacy of social programs created by central government and supported by the public repeatedly at the ballot box – is now leading the US to ruin.
When coupled, in a strange and paradoxical pact, with fundamental religion – itself deeply separated from modernity – it has motivated that part of the electorate who feel estranged from the social programs that embody modernity. The much discussed malaise of our middle class has provided fertile ground for extremist republican views. It began with Reagan’s vicious attacks on welfare – don’t forget his most enduring images were all lies, yet resonant still today. And it continues with rising crescendo with the Tea Party and its successes in ousting every single moderate Republican left in Washington.
This rising tide of extremism festered because the middle ground in politics grew complacent and never articulated the social case properly. It also grew because of the intellectual energy provided buy orthodox economists – in both parties – who enabled the shift to the right.
They enabled the attack on the unions.
They enabled the attack on welfare.
They enabled the vilification of the unemployed.
They fostered the environment within which it is acceptable, to some, to bring the Federal government to a grinding halt, just to make a political point.
There is a straight and undeniable line from the scarcely disguised ideologically driven pontification of economists like Friedman and his ilk and the willingness of libertarians to splinter the US apart. His and his intellectual forbear’s inability to distinguish authoritarian or autocratically imposed policies from democratically supported policies is both stunning and tragic. It threatens to destroy our democracy altogether.
The rise of extremism in America is really the rise of the extreme right. There is no extreme left. Trying to conjure one in the name of supposed objectivity is merely facilitating the radical take over of our legislative process.
There is a revolution going on. A right wing revolution.
Asinine confrontations over the debt ceiling are merely manifestations of this revolution.
The extremists deny the legitimacy of “we the people”. They want to batter their way to control. They want to bend, lie, and cheat in order to impose their archaic and extreme worldview.
I wish “we the people” had a strong voice to rally our counter attack. But we don’t. We have the mainstream media, we have fractured and self absorbed intellectual class, we have an out of date and complacent political party, and we have Obama a failed centrist whip has allowed himself to be tarred as a leftist.
Why does all tis remind me of 1930′s Germany. I wish it didn’t.