Neo-liberalism is dangerous for two reasons. The first is that the goal of neo-liberal policies is to remove anything which stands in the way of maximizing the profits of people with money. Neo-liberals insist that all of their policies produce the best results for everyone, but this is a lie. The second reason it is dangerous is that few people understand that neo-liberal policies are behind virtually every government “reform” introduced for decades.
Deciding what Australian neo-liberals actually think is not easy, but we can start with what they say. The words words listed below appear again and again in the mission statements of the neo-liberal think-tanks listed at the end of this article:
Neo-liberal think-tanks present themselves as advocates of freedom and liberty. But do the believe what they say? Do the walk the talk? Let's start with free speech.
About the only free speech issue which neo-liberals in Australia have raised publicly is the repeal of some sections of the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 because Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the act in 2009.
Are any of the neo-liberal think-tanks active in promoting the freedom of Julian Assange? He has been detained for 6 years. Many people believe the reason he has been detained is to restrict his freedom of speech and the access of ordinary people to important information. The UN itself has found that his detention is totally unjustified.
We could ask who actually has free speech in our society anyway? If you own a newspaper, you have free speech. Otherwise what you say will not be reported unless your message is approved by the few people who own media outlets. Australia has one of the most powerful media monopolies in the world. Surely this constitutes a limit on press freedom in Australia, and press freedom is essential to freedom of speech. Have you ever noticed the IPA or any other neo-liberal think tank complain about this? They only object to the publicly funded broadcasters like ABC and SBS because they are not private. They are indifferent to the overall media monopoly and the way it limits freedom of speech in Australia.
So while these think-tanks claim that they support free speech, they do not acknowledge that in our society there is no free speech. The media in Australia and the West as a whole is a cartel of a few giant corporations. This means that their support for free speech is empty. They do not object to the media monopoly because it is a monopoly of private firms and nothing should hinder their pursuit of private profit.
This gives an insight into the thinking of the neo-liberal think-tanks. They repeat stock phrases like 'free speech' while at the same time ignoring the obvious fact that what they support does not really exist. Perhaps they support Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy as well.
Their support for free enterprise is no better. If we look at the West we see all important areas of the economy are dominated by cartels. Large chunks of Australia's four giant banks are owned by the same three groups: Combined HSBC (Nominees), JP Morgan Nominees and Combined Citicorp. No wonder they are almost indistinguishable. Several giant oil companies, once know as the Seven Sisters, control much of the worlds production and distribution of petrol and diesel. Virtually every area you look at is the same. This means that just like free speech, there is no free enterprise in our society.
While Adam Smith also was an advocate of free markets and free enterprise, he was also quite well aware of the way monopolies and cartels can destroy free markets.
“Again and again, Smith warned of the collusive nature of business interests, which may form cabals or monopolies, fixing the highest price 'which can be squeezed out of the buyers'. Smith also warned that a business-dominated political system would allow a conspiracy of businesses and industry against consumers, with the former scheming to influence politics and legislation.”(1)
Such warnings about the health of our free market economy never come from today's neo-liberal thinkers.
While it is harder to prove, it is not difficult to find statements by reputable economists who will admit that there is no international free market. How can this be? The answer is that over the last 30 years of bank deregulation in the USA there are individuals like George Soros and institutions who can mobilize sufficient assets to manipulate the currency of major countries, the price of raw materials, and the prices of stocks on Wall Street. Why have you not heard about this before? Well, who is going to tell you?
So far we have seen that some of the things the neo-liberal think-tanks support are actually myths and fictions. They are a carefully crafted set of lies which are repeated by people who ”believe in” the system. They are articles of faith like the virgin birth or the Resurrection of Jesus for Christians. Are the four or five owners of the media in the West going to tell you they are a cartel? Many ordinary people want to believe they have free speech, press freedom, free – competitive – enterprise and free – unmanipulated – markets. Neo-liberals say they support these things because they know this is what people want to believe. These phrases are the sheep skin which covers the neo-liberal wolf that we will now reveal.
The Free Market and Nothing But the Free Market
While the idea of a free market may sound attractive to some, there is a real sting in the tail when you insist, as the neo-liberals do, on having nothing but the free market in society. LibertyWorks Ltd gives this account of the nature and virtues of free markets:
“Free markets allow buyers and sellers to willingly engage in interactions that create value for both parties. Buyers reward sellers who produce goods and services that appeal to them and sellers are encouraged to take risks and work hard to develop new ideas, products and services to appeal to potential buyers. Neither buyers nor sellers are coerced into proceeding with any transaction, they are entirely voluntary, and move forward if both parties perceive they get something out of it. It’s only free markets that produce these voluntary win-win interactions and each time they do, they economic pie expands.”(2)
When they say “neither buyers nor sellers are coerced into proceeding with any transaction, they are entirely voluntary” they overlook the “transaction” in which a worker sells their labour to an employer. It is only “voluntary” in a strictly legalistic sense. If they live in a neo-liberal paradise which has nothing but the free market a worker who does not sell their labour to an employer will starve to death.
LibertyWorks rejects the idea that a government should give support to an unemployed worker. “Government created transactions do not create value, they take value from some people and give it to others without increasing the economic pie.”(3) In other words, for the neo-liberals at LibertyWorks, creating “economic value” is the only thing that is important in society. Saving the life of an unemployed worker is seen to have no value at all. The only value in society they recognise is economic value, which is private profit.
Does this mean that for neo-liberals the only thing of value in the universe is creating economic value? Is this their fundamental but well-hidden assumption? Can this be simplified to this article of faith: the only important/necessary/valued activity in society is creating a private profit? Or: Everything must maximise private profit, so anything which hinders the maximisation of private profit should be removed.
In the years since 9/11 there has been a massive attack on what was previously taken to be individual liberties, but it seems the neo-liberal think-tanks have been thinking about other things. We might compare what they have been doing for the last few years with an organization called Civil Liberties Australia. Their mission statement is:
“We stand for people’s rights, and go in to bat for everyone’s civil liberties.
“We monitor police and security forces, and the actions and inaction of politicians.
“We review proposed legislation, to make it better, and keep watch on government departments and agencies.
“We work to keep Australia the free and open society it has traditionally been, where you can be yourself without undue interference from ‘authority’.”(4)
These are all goals of a libertarian organization. Here are some of their projects:
“Correcting the worst excesses of anti-terrorism laws.
“Helping to safeguard people’s data and privacy, especially in health.
“Cooperating with similar groups on privacy, prisons, refugees, mental health, drug law reform, aboriginal rights, migrant rights, whistleblowers, voluntary euthanasia,
campaigning against the death penalty.
“Monitoring prisoners’ and detainees’ rights in jails, particularly juveniles.”(5)
When is the last time you noticed LibertyWorks, Australian Taxpayers Alliance, or Centre for Independent Studies fighting for privacy, prisons, refugees, mental health, drug law reform, aboriginal rights or migrant rights? Our individual liberties have been eroded by new technology and government policies, all under the watchful eyes of the neo-liberals in Australia.
Privatisation and Deregulation of State-owned Enterprises
Earlier we saw what I called the neo-liberals' article of faith: Everything must maximise private profit. Since government enterprises do not produce a private profit, neo-liberals insist on the privatisation of all government enterprises. For years the right has insisted that government owned enterprises are inefficient and wasteful, since only the pursuit of private profit will cut costs to the lowest possible level. What I have called their article of faith is a different kind of reason which has nothing to do with efficiency or waste. Since we must create the most value = private profit possible in society, all non-private activity must be privatised.
Deregulated Workplaces and Abolition of the Minimum Wage
The same neo-liberal article of faith we uncovered above justifies both of these demands. Government regulation of workplaces will impose work practices on the employer which almost certainly will be seen to cut into their value = profitability. In the same way an employer may be able to find workers who will work for less than the minimum wage, which would increase the profitability of their enterprise.
Trade liberalisation, that is the removal of any tariffs or other legal requirements which could hinder the importation of the cheapest possible items also follows from the article of faith that nothing should hinder the profitability of enterprises. Globalist treaties like the TPP are simply examples of the article of faith applied to international trade.
According to neo-liberals, when governments give money to an unemployed worker, this does not create value. Usually the money used by the government is derived from taxation. This is how LibertyWorks understands taxation:
“In contrast to free markets, government provided services are always win-lose transactions. Governments tax unwilling citizens to redistribute the proceeds to others in the form of cash or 'services'. While the recipients of the largess are typically happy to take the handouts, we should remember that everything that is given to them has been forced from someone else.
“Under this system, 'winners' seek to maximise their wins and the coerced seek to avoid additional losses. Government created transactions do not create value, they take value from some people and give it to others without increasing the economic pie.”(6)
Taxes come from “unwilling citizens” who are forced or coerced to pay them. LibertyWorks concludes that “Government heavy economies (...) are morally inferior to free markets because they rely on coercion to function.”
Do the thinkers at LibertyWorks realise that governments not only coerce people to pay taxes, they coerce people to obey other laws like speed limits, prohibitions against theft, murder or pedophilia. Sometimes they even coerce their citizens to join their military to fight and die for their country.
Coercion by governments is an essential feature of governments, without which they cannot exist. Why does this coercion make governments “morally inferior” to free markets? The use of force by governments is just a simple fact of life. LibertyWorks presents such coercion as a defect rather than realising it has been a necessary feature of complex human societies for thousands of years. And who thinks that government coercion is always immoral? Anarchists.
Smaller government means little or no regulation and no government enterprises. However it also means much less taxation, which neo-liberals see as theft of what is rightfully theirs and theirs alone. They want us to believe that the “hidden hand” of the market will insure that the unrestricted pursuit of private profit produces the best result for all of us. If there was a genuine free press and free academic inquiry neo-liberalism could be unmasked rather easily. Under the not so hidden hand of corporate censorship the task is more difficult.
While virtually all Australian neo-liberal think-tanks use words like 'freedom', 'liberty', etc., the word 'democracy' is not nearly as common, and is sometimes endorsed only as limited democracy. Why is this?
The answer is rather simple. Neo-liberals will not endure anything which restricts the maximisation of private profit. Where might some of these restrictions come from? From demands by people for safe consumer products, safe working environments, careful handling of dangerous products like explosives, chemicals or radiation. The greatest threat they see to their unlimited pursuit of profit is people demanding their democratic governments protect them from these and other dangers. Neo-liberals would prefer limited democracy or perhaps no democracy at all, as in Chile under Pinochet.
My conclusion is that neo-liberalism is dangerious because it values only one thing, maximising private profit, and quite simply nothing else matters. The lives, the health, and the living standards of the citizens of any country like Australia are therefore at risk. So is democracy, political freedom, press freedom and the usual understandings of individual liberty.
These policies are not only pushed by the Liberal and National Parties. It is clear the the Australian Labor Party and the Greens in Australia also follow the neo-liberal agenda. They have all gone along with cuts to government spending, deregulation and privatization, three pillars of neo-liberal economics. The political situation is so bad that no political party dares to challenge the truly evil assumptions behind neo-liberalism.
First and foremost, neo-liberals do not value human life itself. If you cannot work to support your self and you do not have money to buy what you need to live, you can starve. The Nazi phrase “useless mouths” comes to mind. In reality the neo-liberal article of faith and the policies based on it are completely ruthless. What else would you say of people who insist it is acceptable, if not morally superior, to allow the unemployed, the homeless, single parents, age pensioners, the disabled and mentally ill to starve to death because to give them food and shelter does not increase economic value = profit? It is time that the mask of respectability is torn from the faces of people who care only about maximising private profit and are indifferent to the lives of ordinary people forced to suffer only to increase the wealth of the super-rich.
Australian Neo-liberal Think-tanks which are members of the Atlas Network, a nonprofit organization connecting a global network of more than 450 free-market organizations in over 90 countries.(7)
AUSTRALIAN INSTITUTE FOR PROGRESS (nd)
AUSTRALIAN TAXPAYERS' ALLIANCE (ca 2012)
Sydney South, Australia
(Includes the Menzies Research Centre 1994)
CENTRE FOR INDEPENDENT STUDIES (1976)
St. Leonards, Australia
H.R. NICHOLLS SOCIETY (1986)
INSTITUTE OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS - IPA (1943)
LIBERTYWORKS INC. (nd)
MANNKAL ECONOMIC EDUCATION FOUNDATION (1997)