Was Neoliberalism Oversold?

Has economic freedom been oversold? That was the question asked (and ultimately answered) in a new paper by the research arm of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The agency is the international “central bank to central banks” which swoops in and provides cash to bail out entire nations – for a price, of course. That price has always been a little bit of austerity for the government and de-regulation all around.

The guiding philosophy goes by a handle which may seem off to many in the United States – Neoliberalism. It was a response to the failure of classical Liberalism, or reduction of state power in favor of free markets, which failed in the last Depression. This depression seems to have been about as kind to the general concept for many of the same reasons.

As always it’s worth talking about in the sense that we are again confronted with the possibility that “everything the experts know is wrong” – a feeling certainly stirred up elections throughout the developed world lately.

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The Broken Social Contract

I originally intended to update this position from four years ago, but honestly not a thing has changed.  In many ways, it continues to become worse.  So here it is, no changes at all.

Are you better off now than you were so many years ago? It was a question first raised in the 1980 campaign, a motto used to defeat President Carter. The answer then was a rather sure “No!” and the voters responded, blaming the man in charge. But are you better off now than then? And was it fair to blame Carter or any President for the state of the economy?

A few graphs showing the state of workers in the Postwar Era (1947-today) shows how the problem persists. Sen Sanders has often said that the last 40 years have been a slow retreat for workers, and he has a point. But who is to blame?

Let’s leave blame aside for a moment and check out the numbers first.

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On the Wealth of Nations

The rapid pace of change has created a world filled with excitement and energy. At the same time, it’s created a world filled with anxiety and fear. At the intersection of both of these is hatred, distrust, disrespect, and every other force you can think of which can divide people.  Rather than bring us together, closeness has us running to define boxes to hide in, regardless of how small.

The great force which should unite but instead often confuses and separates is the driving force of our time: technology. That one simple word is the savior and excuse all at the same time. But what is it, really?

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Where Economics Fails

Economics is nothing more nor less than the study of the primary way in which people connect with society and get on with their lives.

In everyday life, you may interact with a few people – family, colleagues, and friends. But through the process of eating and paying the mortgage you interact, at some distance, with hundreds more. Because this interaction is entirely through something called “money,” a way of keeping score, it’s very tempting to look at it entirely through numbers. The dizzying details of tens of millions of exchanges every day makes a top-view in bulk the most desired method of analyzing how things are going.

Yet this process has proven wrong over and over again. The failure of economics, particularly macro-economics, is the primary reason why the only true study of an economy has to be a People’s Economics.

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Empires of Advancement

Alexander the Great is one of those rare figures in world history who genuinely deserves the accolades given by the “Great Man Theory” of history. From his base in Greece, he conquered most of Eurasia in just a few years, extending the reach of Hellenistic (Greek) culture and thought which already dominated the Mediterranean.

Yet his empire died with him in 323 BCE. An empire that large simply could not last at that time, at least without intense leadership and the sharp edge of a sword.

Fast forward a mere three hundred years, and Eurasia was dominated by four great, permanent empires which included as much as three quarters of the 300 million or so people on this planet. They were largely at peace with each other, too. What happened? What made this possible? More to the point, what can we learn from this incredible change in how people were organized and lived their everyday lives?

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Individualism or Interdependence?

Long ago, most Americans lived as Laura Ingalls Wilder chronicled in the “Little House” series.  Pa Ingalls and family were out in the wilderness, living with the rhythm of the land and putting away what they could to survive long winters and perhaps beyond.  The family’s net worth was what they had around them.

That life has been replaced with interdependence based on a dollar value assigned to absolutely everything.  We all get by with any extra scratch, should there be some, not stored up to get through the winter but properly invested in convertible assets.  This means everyone is subject to  the “free market”, which determines the value of all assets including experience, talent, and work.

That interdependence has changed our world to one with much less hard work or struggles against nature, and yet to many it has become as hostile as any winter on the Great Plains.
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Reboot

It’s been a big two weeks. The process of moving halfway across the nation and joining the faster paced world of San Francisco has been tiring, to say the least. Starting today, Barataria will resume its regular schedule.

So much has happened in the last two weeks, but then again little has changed. More specific analysis of the current economic and political situation will come later, but the larger trends are still simply moving ahead.

That remains the main point.

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