Friday, October 10, 2008

"Free Market" as chimera

"Lenin" has a good post on the relationship between "free market" ideology and actually-existing neoliberalism. I found this a refreshing read, because it keyed in on a couple of things I'd been thinking lately about the chorus on the Right whining about the "death of the free market", "the end of American capitalism", etc.

There's something truly pathetic about the dismay of those who identify "the free market" as a founding paradigm of the economic/social order and consequently feel as though it now being viciously assaulted by 'government intervention'. This view doesn't need to be refuted (which is easily done), it requires something else. It needs to be critiqued not as the rational basis for neoliberal policy, but as ideology.

Of course, actual capitalism has never had much to do with this ideological notion of "free markets". Concretely, "government intervention" is not new, but part of a long-standing history of how capitalism functions. The rationale for neoliberalism is far more perverse than the "pseudo-pragmatic claim that 'markets work', that they're the most effective delivery system for goods and services", etc. The rationale is usually some version of the view that markets are natural feature of reality, that human beings are genetically disposed qua species to be the self-interested rational-misers that many economists want us to believe we are.

But, as "Lenin" points out:
A large number of "people have spent a great percentage of their adult lives believing that the alternative to a perpetual liberalization of the markets was the restoration of serfdom. Capital and its managers were always more pragmatic: their aim was to hegemonize the state, to make it a powerful instrument of their interests, not to diminish it."
This is key. Reality has never conformed to the absurd "intervention vs. free market" disjunction imposed upon it by libertarians. Capital relishes these stooges when they preach 19th century dogmas requiring the retreat of the State in areas of taxation, social spending, services, regulation, etc. Of course, these same stooges seem utterly speechless when ever-pragmatic Capital also opts for using the State apparatus to further its own ends. Why would we expect a class for whom there is no such thing as 'enough' wealth or power, to do anything other than ruthlessly pursue profits ad infinitum?

The conclusion we should draw is that libertarians simply do not have the theoretical resources to understand what's at stake in politics. What's more, the Left shouldn't respond to their ideological fantasies as thought they were rational arguments, but should understand these blatherings for what they are. If the Right wants to argue about real capitalism, we can argue about capitalism. But as far as the ideological fantasy sustaining some people's attachment to the status quo, the most progressive response may be to refuse to legitimize it as an argument.

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