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How Propagandists for the 1% Are Manipulating Christian Teachings to Rob the Middle Class 

The neoliberal utopianism that caused the financial crisis has been repackaged for the 2012 election.

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From the start of this Reagan-Thatcher revolution, the "trickle down" theory of wealth was accompanied by promises of a smaller, less intrusive state, except for a strong military. Fast forward through 30-plus years of nearly uninterrupted neoliberal policymaking - Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were deregulating neoliberal champions - and not only do we have the most expensive, heavily militarized, war-prone, increasingly inequitable and intrusive state in US (and British) history, it is also the most indebted.

Neoliberalism is failing on its own terms, yet it continues to define US politics due to its appeal among a sizable and particularly fervent segment of the electorate. (12)

The Rise of the Utopians

In order to understand the fervor of this continued popular support for failed policies, it is important to grasp the utopian, quasi-theological nature of neoliberal ideology. In the neoliberal worldview, the self-regulating market is not a merely human construct, but a form of naturally-occurring "spontaneous order" that produces optimum outcomes and maximum individual freedom if left completely unfettered. (13) It is, as Karl Polanyi pointed out in "The Great Transformation," a radically utopian vision that rests on a blind faith that markets are essentially part of the natural order. (14)

On the political right, this faith has reached its fullest expression, ultimately moving markets into the realm of the sacred, where their legitimacy cannot be questioned. In this utopian setting, regulation is not merely ill advised; it is a violation of natural law that is nearly sacrilegious. Witness, for example, the reactionary explosion on the right to the apostasy of Barack Obama's health care plan to regulate the insurance cartels.

Although this pernicious sacralization of the self-regulating market is absurd on its face - modern markets being embedded in particular cultures and dependent on enormous government intervention and expenditures, full of frictions and totally absent the perfect information required by economic models - it has nonetheless turned out to have powerful allure even among those who are being swindled out of their hard-earned assets as a result.

Not least among the reasons for this allure is the fact that in the US, neoliberalism's utopian market fundamentalism meshes so readily with utopian strains of fundamentalist Christianity, thereby lending the neoliberal project a zealous sense of populist mission. A neoliberal class project is dressed up and sold as a patriotic religious project.

While those at the top with access to policymakers reap enormous financial benefits from their embrace of neoliberal theology, many of those at the bottom who stand to lose the most economically join forces with them because of political appeals to their utopian religious and patriotic beliefs. Neoliberal presidential candidates from Ronald Reagan to Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have come before voters as kindred utopian spirits, true believers couching their self-regulating market utopianism in the familiar and compelling language of patriotism, individual freedom, mom and pop entrepreneurism and religion. ('Believe in America.') Utopian faith thereby trumps the pain of ugly reality.

And the ugly reality is that neoliberal markets - unlike the elegant models of classical economics - are rigged. And rigged in favor of the wealthiest members of society. Income disparity between the bottom and top 20 percent in the US has more than doubled since 1979. (15) Income for the top 1 percent grew by 275 percent from 1979 to 2007, while income for the bottom 20 percent grew just 18 percent. (16)

The US now has 49.1 million people living in poverty, the highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930's. (17) Yet among true believers at both ends of the economic spectrum, the powerful emotional pull of a shared utopian vision transcends the homely realities of the fact-based world.