The Invisible Fist (Part III)

July 23rd, 2012 | 1 comment

I’m afraid I have more to say — and critique — concerning the CBC’s radio show The Invisible Hand, a tour-de-force of neoliberal ideology masking as “economics.” In its second show, it looked at the question of the apocalypse, following its first show on economic decision-making in times of crisis (see posts, part 1 & part 2).

The second show easily demonstrates how saving chickens, and not gold, is the way to roll when the apocalypse hits. At least this has a hint of sanity to it — chickens lay eggs, make more chickens, provide food, etc. Of course, what isn’t mentioned is that they require a local economy for their sustenance. The growing and provision of grain requires collective efforts, which requires not only small-scale trade but coordinated agricultural efforts. In short, raising chickens means communal levels of negotiation and organisation around resources. This argument is well-made against the more radical factions of neoconservatives who want to return world currencies to the gold standard, and who advocate hoarding gold. You can’t eat gold if the world goes down in flames.

Yet the second shows harbours an even more insidious level of neoliberal ideology concerning the primacy of the individual, precisely because the above models — of localized community around the chicken economy — are absent from the discussion. Rather, the show assumes a single individual having a choice: gold or chickens? There is no discussion of what raising chickens means, or how it would work. The debate over chickens vs. gold masks a more troubling series of assumptions concerning the apocalypse as a whole: that we will all be going it alone.

The show performs this ideological operation by setting-up a false debate and masking its terms. Under this debate, everyone can see that hoarding gold isn’t that smart if world (and local) economies collapse. Yet this scenario follows from the premises of the first show: the first show established an ideological illusion concerning human nature, ie, that in crisis situations we’d all act like individuals and/or are supposed to, without any kind of collective organisation, communication, principles of sharing, or ad-hoc communal formations with decision-making power to prioritize resources.

Indeed, the apocalypse show follows from this, as it presents the logical outcome of the first show: now there is definitively no governance or community. The apocalypse is here, we’re all on our OWN! In the apocalypse the neoliberal question becomes: what should I hoard? Instead of: what collective/communal arrangements will be the most beneficial in the pooling of resources?

History demonstrates that in every disaster scenario, those that survive are those that band together, pool resources, and learn how to share. Just look at the recent tsunami in Japan, or a few years ago in Thailand — nobody sits around with arms-crossed going “so, what did you hoard?” No, everyone is out there helping each other out. Look at New York after 9/11. In short, all of the economic examples presented demand a very narrow, restricted idea of human nature in terms of crisis. And it is a dangerous one: if you’re sitting around with chickens (or gold) and want to go it alone, you will die. Period. Neoliberal ideology implies that if you don’t hoard, and have no property, you will be excluded from trade (ie society) and thus be left to die, when in fact, historical fact, the opposite is true. Which leads to a question: who is this ideology serving? Do neoliberal economists actually believe this ideology, or do they only propagate individualist versions such as these so as to easier divide-and-conquer, given that most wealthy elites are not that individualistic at all, but operate through all sorts of elite networks, ie through insider-trading, old boy’s clubs, capitalist club retreats such as Davos, etc., all of which make up the privileged economic systems of power and wealth known as oligarchy?

In any case, neoliberal ideology is still definitively at work here in the second show, by insidiously establishing the parameters of individualist economics in times of crisis. And we should be led to ask by now: why is it that neoliberalism specifically requires not only crisis, but apocalyptic levels of crisis, to supposedly demonstrate its principles? Does this mean that we can only observe neoliberalist economics in effect if we reduce the world to crisis, if we bring on the apocalypse?

This thesis — that neoliberal economics requires crisis, if not the apocalypse, to reduce humanity to the Hobbesian savagery of go-it-alone individuality so as to allow for the deity-like “Invisible Hand” to work its magic — does make sense in a twisted fashion, insofar as neoliberalism economics are irrecoverably tied into the apocalyptic agenda of the theoconservative right.

The Invisible Hand and the right-wing, Evangelical/American Catholic Christian god occupy the same position: as the dealer of benevolent reward to believers, and punishment to non-believers (including homosexuals, pro-choicers, feminists, godless socialists, etc). This is why the Invisible Hand rewards the wealthy and punishes the poor: the wealthy have demonstrated their value as Christians of capitalism; the poor are deserving of their lot, as obviously they don’t believe enough in the system to let the Invisible Hand/God help them.

Of course, this isn’t the theology of the charitable Christian whose poor & meek shall inherit the Earth — though perhaps so if interpreted as: the poor & meek shall inherit what is left of the planet after the wealthy have plundered it, stripping the planet bare and exhausting its resources, thereby bringing about the End Times — during which the wealthy Christian elite are zipped up to Heaven during the Rapture. For more on this documented, direct connection between Christian theoconservatives and right-wing neoliberal capitalism, and how this ties into the Bush regime, the invasion of Iraq, the privatization of the US military, and the rise of Christian mercenary armies, see Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

So how could this show be different? If I were doing this show it would be far more interested in questions of how people actually find ways to collectively problem-solve and troubleshoot economic questions (and crises, such as the one we are in right now — climate change!) rather than the underlying go-it-alone premise of individuals acting under the rationale of the “Invisible Hand” which is, basically, a fiction — a bed-time story for the disenfranchised. “One day, the Invisible Hand might touch you in a special place and make you rich too!” The Invisible Hand is yet another name for the depleted and destructive capitalist fiction that is the American Dream.

Right now, what we need is critical thought on economics, given that the prevailing neoliberal model has brought about the collapse of world economies, rewarding the criminal bankers with bailouts at the expense of the rest of us. All of us, the 99%, are paying for the criminal plundering of our planet by the wealthy 1%. Neoliberal economics has failed in even the most basic of its promises — the Reagan-era trickle-down theory — that a so-called “free market” results in eventual equality. The Invisible Hand does nothing to help: it is a fist that smashes all attempts at collectivity, which protects the wealthy elite with military force. Neoliberal economics has also failed at addressing truly pressing environmental issues that will, in the end, probably destroy us if intelligent action is not taken to address climate change, precisely because neoliberal economics is designed to bring about the apocalypse, if we are to believe the published theoconservative agenda. (This is not conspiracy theory — simply read what is on the record from right-wing US Republican representatives, and in Canada, members of the Conservative Party.)

Taking it home to Canada, it just appears to me that The Invisible Hand is a mouthpiece for the Harper government — it attemtps to sell Harper’s neoconservative policies by presenting as an uncontested, received truth the neoliberal doctrine…

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    One Response to “The Invisible Fist (Part III)”

    1. 3 parts by @futigivephilo on CBC's Planet Money knock-off The Invisible Hand