As a new writer for the Fluffy Economist, I thought I ought to set out some of the basics of my thinking, though it might help to know that my political co-ordinates are: -9.00, -7.54. You can read more of me at Bartlett’s Bizzare Bazaar, and, coming soon, The Sharpener.
“[W]hen we act, we create our own reality”; unnamed aide to President Bush, 2004.
Like giants, ogres and gnomes, Homo economicus is a mythical species of humanoid. Or rather, it once was. Unlike giants, ogres and gnomes, many educated, modern people have believe that Homo economicus, the monster-man who lives only by a calculation of personal material interests, not only exists, but that it is in fact Homo sapiens, the thinking-man, the man of sense, who is the fantasy.
Possessed by this belief, and possessing great power over the organisation of our society, this group of fantasists have, through human action, made their legends real. In ‘on your bike’, the attempt to disguise labour mobility as a virtue, people are told that there is no value to be found within the communities that they live and work. ‘Flexibility’, rendering jobs temporary, transient and often, precarious, erodes the notion of loyalty to and pride in anything greater than the individual economic unit.
This is presented as inevitable. But it is the product of human action. Homo economicus is presented as the natural form of existence for mankind. Why then, does it require thousands of years of social development to reach this form? Neo-liberal economic policies are the deliberate attempt to transform Homo sapiens, attached to place and people, culture and tradition by bonds that cannot be quantified, altering the environment so as to force evolution into Homo economicus.
The Marxist heritage of the leading proponents of neo-liberalism is patent. Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto that “[t]he bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and with them the whole relations of society”. “All that is solid melts into air”, leaving, as the only “nexus between man and man… naked self-interest… callous ‘cash payment’”. Everything is swept aside leaving only “egotistical calculation”. “[P]ersonal worth [is transformed] into exchange value” and freedoms have been replaced by Free Trade. Veiled exploitation is substituted by “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”.
What men like Thomas Friedman have forgotten is that ‘making the world flat’ is not conducted in the interests of the poor and the powerless, people whose difference is their only defence against exploitation. Like so many liberals, ex-New Left and now the New Right, what is always missing from their analysis, and is apparent in their blind faith in the market and the United States Marine Corps., is the central importance of power in human relations, even those apparently, at least to the myopic, equal relations of the market, even the market of ideas. Yes, making the world flat might, and only might, strip away the rationale for tribal conflict and gender inequality. But it undoubtedly is the painless, liberal way of describing the way that capital kicks through barriers and establishes its dominance, in the process transforming human-kind into the rational, but uncivilized monster-men of Milton Friedman’s dreams.