It is time for me to remind myself how sick and disturbing the economic system called “free market capitalism” or “laissez-faire” really is. If humanity survives the current Age of Narcissus, attaining a perch of insight, it will look back with gaping disbelief and gross horror.
If we act as ants, we are ants to the gods.
The cancer in our financial heart is easy to outline: our business elites have found a way to worship greed and convince themselves that it is the most beautiful force in the social universe. It’s that simple. You can stop reading here. If you do, imagine how ridiculous we will look to enlightened civilizations in future times (if by some miracle they ever manage to exist).
If you want details, you need look no further than the core premises of free market capitalism (which I sketch below). They are embraced with faith and fanaticism by their apostle economists; and also advantageously and slyly by kingpin entrepreneurs.
The origin of this fundamentalist economics is the so-called Chicago School at the University of Chicago in the 1950’s, with Milton Friedman emerging as the charismatic, tireless leader of the movement. His mentor was Friedrich Hayek, whose books are now sources of unwieldy mantras to his followers.
In its idealist form, the theory of capitalism states that markets can regulate themselves to produce a perfect equilibrium via an "invisible hand." Government bad, corporation good. It is a mathematical model based on unchallengeable premises, such as the all-importance of the urge for stuff.
To its adherents, it is a beautiful system of ideas, mathematically focused on an unregulated dance of buying and selling, which they praise in the way that Greek philosophers upheld the Platonic Forms or Christians worship God.
At the core is the pretty canard of self-interested materialistic desire. It has to be materialistic, because swiping our credit cards, on this view, is the essence of what makes us happy. Non-quantifiable sources of meaning, like spirituality and friendship, are microscopic compared to our insatiable want for more and newer things with competitive price tags.
Do you see how this view promotes Greed behind a guise of precious and abstract principles? The truth, though, is that the economic emperor of our time, free market capitalism, wears no clothes.
It was deregulated markets that brought us the Great Depression. After this destructive orgy of investment speculation, Franklin Delano Roosevelt remarked, “We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.”
It was also deregulated markets that brought us the Great Recession in 2008. Monopoly and corruption inevitably follow when billionaires are not policed. But the fanatical followers of Friedman never learn.
Nowhere does a pure laissez-faire exist, and where it has been tried, the results are predictable: a cadre of crony entrepreneurs, a disappearing middle class, raging unemployment, and the dismantling of workers’ rights. A common tactic is to privatize, say, the transportation industry, destroy the union, fire the majority of workers, and watch the company stocks rise due to the “greater efficiency.” The corporate raiders then cash in while the company burns.
Laissez-faire is so callous and single-minded that the beauty of nature and respect for animals are not even on its map. It can’t understand non-human lives and ecosystems, except in terms of dollar signs, or more often a lack of dollar signs-- which leads to “development,” that Orwellian euphemism for destroying wilderness and mutilating millions of animals in lightless factory farms.
One of my favorite quotes in this regard comes from an apocalyptic work of fiction: “The [capitalists] fear what may not be purchased, for a trader cannot understand a thing that is priceless.” (Alpha Centauri)
The unworldly doctrine of free market capitalism is fully involved with the Satan-worthy practices of the US empire over decades. These include widespread torture, oppression, and self-serving wars. At the helm are extremely wealthy people whose conscience is unbothered by mass cruelty and evil.
This is but one of the horrible consequences of the Friedman-Hayek myth: it puts sociopathic moguls in charge of the world, accumulators who thrive on conquering and acquiring, and who have risen up through the competitive and corrupt world of the ‘free’ market by whatever callous and brutal force necessary.
I recommend the book “The Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein for a brilliant and life-changing introduction to these chilling issues. Another great book is “A Legacy of Ashes” by Tim Wiener. The best overarching reference is perhaps “Killing Hope” by William Blum.