Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Monbiot: Who, What, and When?

So, who wrote the quotes presented in the previous post? When were they written?

The key below answers that:

First pair: A. George Monbiot (2016); B. J.M. Keynes (1933)

Second pair: C. Adam Smith (1776); D. Monbiot

Third pair: E. Herbert Spencer (1851); F. Monbiot

Fourth pair: G. J.M. Keynes (1936); H. Monbiot.


Monbiot, like Brad DeLong, is wondering how did we get into the mess we are now. In his latest ("Neoliberalism -- the Ideology at the Root of all our Problems", The Guardian, April 15) he presents us with a lengthy catalogue of serious ills affecting modern society, ranging from the political and economic, to the environmental, passing through the social.

After deep thought -- exactly like DeLong -- Monbiot found the same culprit DeLong found. It's not something material, concrete, measurable, tangible. This mess is ideology's doing, they say.

Don't conclude from that, however, that both men have the same thing in mind. DeLong sells his point of view as anti-ideological pragmatism; in reality, he can only deliver centre-right ideology. Monbiot sells his own brand of middle-class, respectable Oxbridge leftism; the "neoliberalism" he denounces looks a lot like DeLong's "pragmatism".

In fact, although neither DeLong nor Monbiot named living person's names, I wouldn't be surprised the ideologues they have in mind bore a close resemblance to each other.

Both are wrong. The set of quotes above addresses Monbiot's error. With the possible exception of the environmental crisis, virtually every single contemporary problem he attributes to 20th/21st century "neoliberalism" has long been a subject of discussion, particularly by his fellow countrymen in Britain.

The problem of the repression of trade unions, for instance, which Monbiot wants to trace back to "neoliberalism", was already discussed by Adam Smith in 1776! As much as I dislike "neoliberalism", there's no way to pin that on it.

Spencer was advocating openly -- in 1851 -- the Social Darwinism Monbiot believes a product of contemporary "neoliberalism". In 1933, Keynes himself -- a hero of respectable leftism --  was praising 19th century free traders who tried to ensure the "survival of the economically fittest" and only reproached them their inadequate solution: free trade.

I've no doubt Monbiot means well and I'd hate being unfair to him, but -- to me -- his "unmasking" of the hidden ideology of "neoliberalism", which he advances as the root of all our problems, sounds a lot like an attempt -- unconscious, I prefer to believe -- to mask capitalism: it's not capitalism that's inherently self-destructive, it's something else, something ghostly, ill-defined, but different from capitalism. It's neoliberalism.

Neoliberalism is the Mr. Hyde-side of capitalism's personality one must somehow repress, to keep capitalism's Dr. Jekyll-side.

An idea for you to think about, George: maybe, just maybe, people don't care much about neoliberalism because they understand it's not that important. Unthinkable as it may seem, maybe, just maybe, there is no Dr. Jekyll, only Mr. Hyde, and his is the true face of capitalism.

Monbiot points to the inability of the Left to propose a solution to our predicament. He is wrong: there is an alternative to capitalism. He should remember the Left used to have a solution, that solution which he didn't like. To deny that is to mislead -- unconsciously, I prefer to believe -- the public. You have no right to do that, George.

It is, however, your right to dislike that solution. Well, with right comes responsibility: it's up to you to propose a better alternative.

It would be an exaggeration to place the Left's failure squarely on Monbiot's shoulders (as exaggerated as placing the merit for the short-lived golden age of enlightened capitalism on Keynes' lap, as Monbiot did), but -- credit where it is due -- he's done his bit.

UPDATE: Tao Jonesing scored a perfect 100% in the game of Who, What, and When?

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