Foreign affairs are so compelling that one sometimes loses track of the outrages taking place here at home. But everything is connected: Neoconservatism and neoliberalism are siblings, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Neoliberalism -- a.k.a. libertarianism -- is the reason why you can't drink the water in Flint, Michigan
Already pressured by a collapsing economy and a financial state of emergency, the people of Flint, Michigan, were also deprived of clean water in 2014, when the state decided to switch the city's water source to the notoriously mucky Flint River in a bid to save money. In the absence of proper treatment, the water eroded the lead service lines and put all residents in danger. Although the lead-poisoned locals and children are now forced to deal with the consequences of this reckless act for the rest of their lives, the city and state officials responsible have yet to pay any noteworthy price.
As another man-made disaster quietly turns into past, the nearby rundown areas of Detroit are faced with a similar threat. Alongside miserable poverty, bad pipes and neglected water treatment systems are dragging Detroit into third-world status.
Lead poisoning was just the last straw, however. Earlier tests had detected E. coli and fecal bacteria in the water, and Flint’s water was found in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for high levels of total trihalomethanes, which according to the EPA can lead to “Liver, kidney or central nervous system problems; increased risk of cancer.” Flint residents had reported an ongoing litany of health problems—hair loss, vomiting, diarrhea to the point of dangerous dehydration—in addition to foul, discolored drinking water. Environmental activist Erin Brockovitch lent her support, calling broader attention to the problems. Eventually, this past March, the city council voted 7-1 to “do all things necessary” to reconnect Flint’s water system to Detroit’s, a move that emergency manager Jerry Ambrose dismissed as “incomprehensible” in a statement issued the next day.
The problem is simple: Emergency managers
have overturned the city's ability to govern itself.
This anti-democratic system arose from legislation pushed by Republican governor Rick Snyder (who, during this period, weathered a scandal involving a secret money pool, delightfully called the NERD fund). Unfettered capitalism created an emergency situation, which became the justification for more unfettered capitalism.
As always, unregulated Big Money gave all authority to unelected forces. Elected officials became impotent.
The think tank pushing this "emergency management" scheme was the libertarian Mackinac Center for Public Policy. This institution receives funding from the Kochs, the Waltons, and the Devos family -- America's most beloved
clans. Back to Salon:
But coming out of Mackinac, a sizable portion of the right has done just that, conceiving the struggle as a long-term process of shifting the framework of “reasonable” ideas so that crazy ideas they love become acceptable, while normal, time-tested ideas they hate become crazy. Whether a given “solution” actually works or not is immaterial in this model. In practice, failure is a feature, not a bug: it can be seized on to urge an even further shift in their preferred direction.
For more on the malign powers behind Mackinac, see here
. The Mackinackers initiated their takeover plan by infiltrating the media. That's always step one.
In a previous post, we looked at a similar libertarian think tank called the Heartland Institute. These organizations are the reification of the ersatz: There's something not really real
about them, despite the massive money flowing into them.
On their website
, the Mackinackers try to define themselves without actually mentioning Ayn Rand or telling you to read Atlas Shrugged
, even though Awful Ayn clearly rules over the intellectual realm they call home. I consider these words to be particularly cute:
Today no one calls an American political research institute a "democratic" institute because it has embraced democracy over monarchy. That battle was fought long ago, and democracy is deservedly the winner.
Coming from the Mackinackers, this sentiment is obscene. These creeps do not believe in democracy
. True believers in democracy do not seek to replace elected officials with the unelected puppets of Big Money: Those emergency managers may not be monarchs, but are
despots. True believers in democracy seek to keep Big Money out of politics, which the Mackinackers would never do.
We believe that the verdict is also in concerning economic systems, and the free market has won. To play on Churchill's famous quip, the free market system is the worst type of economy, except for all the others.
Oh really? From the libertarian perspective, "all the others" includes the Keynesian model which brought so much happiness and prosperity to the world for three decades following World War II. That's what works
Throughout the "We're all Keynesians now" period, most Americans considered their system to be consonant with free market principles, broadly defined. That presumption no longer holds. A Big Lie will never die if you stuff it with enough long green -- and for decades, Libertarian pundits and "think tanks" have told us that Keynes and Marx were as alike as makes no difference. They tell us to accept the horrors of modern Flint, because the only alternative is a nightmare world of commissars and collective farms. Mogadishu or Moscow: No third choice.
We look forward to the day when the myths and fears of free-market capitalism are dispelled, along with the misplaced faith in a benevolent, omnipotent state. By focusing on the actual problems and understanding the proper role of public and private institutions, we can give all Michigan citizens the greatest opportunity for peace, prosperity, and freedom.
Peace? Prosperity? Tell that to the poisoned people of Flint. We know what happens when we place all our faith in a benevolent, omnipotent "free enterprise" system: Democracy goes bye-bye and little kids eat lead.
The disastrous reliance on "emergency managers" illustrates a larger principle: Democracy and libertarianism are not compatible
. You can have one or the other, but not both. Libertarians despise government, and democracy is a form of government. Therefore, libertarians despise democracy -- although they rarely come right out and say so.
One libertarian who confesses the truth is Patri Friedman
, Milton's son. I admire his honesty.
Democracy is the current industry standard political system, but unfortunately it is ill-suited for a libertarian state. It has substantial systemic flaws, which are well-covered elsewhere, and it poses major problems specifically for libertarians:
1) Most people are not by nature libertarians. David Nolan reports that surveys show at most 16% of people have libertarian beliefs. Nolan, the man who founded the Libertarian Party back in 1971, now calls for libertarians to give up on the strategy of electing candidates! Even Ron Paul, who was enormously popular by libertarian standards and ran during a time of enormous backlash against the establishment, never had the slightest chance of winning the nomination. His “strong” showing got him 1.6% of the delegates to the Republican Party’s national convention. There are simply not enough of us to win elections unless we somehow concentrate our efforts.
2) Democracy is rigged against libertarians. Candidates bid for electoral victory partly by selling future political favors to raise funds and votes for their campaigns. Libertarians (and other honest candidates) who will not abuse their office can’t sell favors, thus have fewer resources to campaign with, and so have a huge intrinsic disadvantage in an election.
Libertarians are a minority, and we underperform in elections, so winning electoral victories is a hopeless endeavor.
Libertarians continually try to overcome what they consider the "defects" of democracy through the corrupting influence of The Almighty Dollar. But what happens when it becomes apparent that our political system has become diseased? That's when Libertarians resort to their sneakiest rhetorical ploy: "See? What did we tell you? Government is the problem!
" When Big Money purchases your local politicians, the neoliberal answer is to get rid of politicians altogether. It's much more efficient to let Jeff Bezos and his ilk directly
control your lives. Thrift, Horatio, thrift.
But the corruption of democracy does not mean that the underlying concept has failed. It means only that we must replace a sullied democracy with something purer.
The reason why libertarians hate democracy is clear: Libertarianism is the belief that The Rich Are Gods, and democracy is the only
peaceful mechanism which gives poor people the power to tell the "Gods" to go to hell. When little kids eat lead, when toxins overpower the ecosystem, when
cities become unlivable for anyone of modest means, our
easily-bamboozled populace will finally begin to shake off their
libertarian-induced state of trance. They will rediscover their love for