Can Joe Biden Finally Bury Milt Friedman?
American economist, Milt Friedman, captured the somewhat limited imaginations of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and our own Brian Mulroney and they, in turn, ushered in the era of free market globalism - the neoliberal order.
Friedman was convinced that free markets were the solution to just about everything. Think tank scholar and author, Zach Carter, explores the mind of the man who caused so much folly, beginning with Friedman's writings on his 1976 speaking tour of South Africa. Carter writes that a contemporary reading of Friedman's Cape Town lectures is a harrowing experience:His first speech was an unremitting diatribe against political democracy—an explicit rejection of, in Friedman’s words, “one person, one vote,” delivered to a nation in which more than half of the population was disenfranchised by race. Voting, Friedman declared, was inescapably corrupt, a distorted “market” in which “special interests” inevitably dictated the course of public life. Most voters were “ill-informed.” Voting was a “highly weighted” process that created the illusion of social cooperation that whitewashed a reality of “coercion and force.” True democracy, Friedman insisted, was to be found not through the franchise, but the free market, where consumers could express their preferences with their unencumbered wallets. South Africa, he warned, should avoid the example of the United States, which since 1929 had allowed political democracy to steadily encroach on the domain of the “economic market,” resulting in “a drastic restriction in economic, personal, and political freedom.”
No longer. In the early months of his presidency, Joe Biden has pursued policy ambitions unseen from American leaders since the 1960s. If implemented, the agenda he described in an April 28 address to Congress would transform the country—slashing poverty, assuaging inequality, reviving the infrastructure that supports daily economic life, and relieving the financial strains that childcare and medical care put on families everywhere. It will cost a lot of money, and so far at least, Biden isn’t letting the price tag intimidate him. “I want to change the paradigm,” he repeated three times at a press conference in March.
The critics were right. Neoliberalism doesn't work. Got it. We've even got it from the brothel of neoliberal thought, the International Monetary Fund that has spent decades administering toxic neoliberal tonics to poor nations, especially Third World nations, around the world often finishing off the job begun by the developed nations. Even the IMF now says that neoliberal policy was "oversold" and, instead of helping, fuels inequality and economic chaos.
Here's how Fortune Magazine describes the IMF and neoliberalism:
Asking if the International Monetary Fund supports economic neoliberalism is like asking if the Pope is Catholic — the answer is so obvious it seems silly to even raise the question. The IMF has been one of the principle endorsers of neoliberalism—an ideology that promotes free markets, free trade, and small government—for decades.
So, what are we to make of this IMF mea culpa? I hope, very little. Take it for what it is, an admission. An admission that they've been driving us down a dead end road. Then go back to what the learned economists and social historians have been telling us for so long. Start with Nobel laureate economist, Joe Stiglitz, whose grounding in the subject of inequality goes back to his PhD thesis. Read Phil Mirowski and James Galbraith. Read John Ralston Saul's dissection of globalism.
The social and economic instability inflicted by neoliberal inequality was documented by two British epidemiologists, Wilkinson and Pickett, in their book "The Spirit Level." The lesson is that rampant inequality of the type spawned by neoliberalism creates widespread and deep-seated social dysfunction from which everyone, rich and poor alike, suffers.
The neoliberal era, ushered in by Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney, was utter madness from the start. Like any new ideology, this entirely faith-based model, took years to implement, especially its economic spearhead, globalism. Like most religions (except for your own of course) it was based on a garbled web of half-truths and outright lies which is why it needed such high-level political muscle to take hold.
It was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who had nominated Volcker to the Fed to pursue Friedman’s monetarism. Ted Kennedy’s failed primary challenge to Carter was the last gasp of the old-line New Deal, Great Society–oriented Democratic Party (and even Kennedy backed deregulation of the airlines and trucking industry). When Jesse Jackson attempted to revive the old vision in 1984, the rank and file were no longer interested, and Jackson was able to secure only 18 percent of the popular vote. Without political patrons in Washington, the once-dominant Keynesian economists were reduced to oddball status in academia, writing for obscure left-wing journals or overhauling their intellectual framework to embrace core tenets of Friedmanism while attempting to make room for the occasional embarrassing budget deficit.
...Friedman may have devoted his life to the American right, but the political magic of his persona was always on the left. His insistence that market mechanisms could be used to promote essentially progressive social values was the key to popularizing a worldview that ultimately amounted to little more than the celebration of political rule by the rich.
...Joe Biden is the first president to desecrate not only the tenets of Friedman’s economic ideas, but the anti-democratic implications of his entire philosophy. He is also the first Democratic president since the 1960s who has formulated and publicly endorsed a coherent defense of American government as an expression of democratic energy. It is a powerful vision that enjoys the support of a large majority of American citizens. He has nothing to fear but Friedman himself.