Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shameless Commerce Division: New Book, THE GOLDEN CALF

A while back I mentioned a forthcoming book:

I'm happy to report that the book is now available in paperback, and soon to be released as a Kindle edition:

To repeat my earlier brief description:
I have been spending time studying the origins and nature of a belief system that I think is most appropriately called economism. Economism is the belief in the all-powerful "free market," and the prescription that every problem in human life can be solved through the market, and that the only appropriate role of government in the market is to get out of the way and let it be "free." But economism is internally self-contradictory and so always ends up talking out of both sides of its mouth. In the case of "big government," economism desires half-powerful and half-powerless government. The powerless half is the part that could stand in the way of corporate profits--like too many DOJ or SEC investigators. But economism simultaneously desires all-powerful government when it comes to those aspects of government that can be tied to its own pursuit of wealth, and can secure monopoly privileges for those corporations now at the top of the heap. So, for example, making sure that Pharma continues to get huge tax breaks, and that the US government remains vigilant to protect its "intellectual property" so that no Indian generic firm can make AIDS drugs to sell in Africa at an affordable price, is a type of "big government" you never hear economism's boosters objecting to.

The main thrust of the book is that economism pretends to be a hard-headed scientific account of the real world, with which only irrational people could disagree. Yet any logical analysis of its thought structure shows that it functions as a religion and not as a science. Historically, I try to show that that's no surprise when you see where its ideas come from. Specifically, economism draws one strand of thinking--the idea that policies that favor the rich are good--from the "Protestant ethic" that grew out of American Puritanism in the 18th century and after; and the other strand--that policies that assist the poor are bad--from the British variant of evangelicalism that was prominent in the early 19th century. So when practitioners of economism--for example, today's "austerians" who insist that the Federal deficit must consume all of our attention, and who cares if Americans are unemployed and losing their homes--our politicians and media assume we are getting scientifically based economic advice, when in fact we are getting other peoples' religious beliefs shoved down our throats.

I ended up doing the inquiry that led to this book after studying the ethical issues around health policy, including the Pharma-medicine interface and health reform, and becoming persuaded that there was a deep level of resistance to policy ideas that otherwise made good sense. It was in search of this deeper level of belief, that declared so many promising reforms off the table from the get-go, that I came to find the phenomenon of economism. (It's been out there all along, and goes under various names--my political science and historian colleagues prefer to call it neoliberalism. But like the proverbial water that the fish swim in, it succeeds so well as a belief system that it manages never to call attention to itself.)

Why is it important to identify economism (first) and to note its logical resemblance to a religion (second)? As the Occupy Wall Street people are at least dimly aware, and are finally starting to create a relevant political dialogue about, economism has a paralyzing effect on democracy. It causes, in the name of the so-called free market and everyone's right to buy and sell without government restriction, incredible economic inequality and injustice both in the US and globally. But even more important, in a way, is how it stifles democracy by suggesting that the entire country is really nothing but a market, and the only people who can run markets are technocrats who should not be answerable to either the political system nor the public. Is it just by coincidence that the new rulers now slated to take over in both Greece and Italy are regarded as economic technocrats, and their rise to authority is being greeted by the European Union as a wonderful development--regardless as to what happens to the right of the people of both countries to control their own national destinies?

That's enough for here; check out the book if you want to learn more.

1 comment:

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