Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Background Into Harpernomics.

Milton Friedman
I was quite shocked to learn that Milton Freidman, noted Free-Market-Free-Booter and  God-Father of the "Chicago School" of Economics considered himself a "Liberal".

Friedman of course, was Augusto Pinochet's go-to guy in the 70s when the American backed dictator was brutally recreating Chilean society.

Friedman believed that the only purpose for Government was in the protection of the people. Literally meaning, the provision of a military and  police force. And as we know all too well, Pinochet made good use of his. The Government, according to Friedman, has no business regulating business which should be free of any and all constraints to operate in any manner that maximizes profits. All for the greater good of course. In addition, education and healthcare are essentially business opportunities best left to the private sector. Any Government involvement in these areas should be cursory if at all, as with charter schools in the U.S.

So when Friedman referred to himself as a "Liberal", he did not mean in the same sense as a 21st century social Liberal might. He was talking about being an "economic Liberal", meaning it should be open season everywhere in the world for business to do as it pleases.

Now I've always thought of Liberalism as being of the "Social" variety. Meaning it's adherents can range anywhere from the centre of the political spectrum to approaching the far left. To my 21st century understanding, Liberalism is progressive, democratic, big on equal rights and recognizes to varying degrees, the state's responsibility not just to protect it's citizens , but to look after the poor, elderly and marginalized as well. In addition, in the name of equality, every and all citizens have a right to appropriate health care and equal education.

Conversely, I understood "Conservatism" to mean that there is more of a commitment to capitalism and free-markets and a belief that a healthy environment for business meant a healthy economy, happy citizens and a healthy country. In addition, Conservatism recognizes religion, particularly Christianity in the formation of our social values and that "family" in the biblical sense, is the cornerstone of a strong society.

Then, there are areas in the middle of the "Political Centre"  where the modern concepts of Liberalism and Conservatism overlap. This is where you get "Red Tories" and "Blue Liberals" or more accurately, Liberal Conservatives and Conservative Liberals.

On closer examination it appears that the philosophy behind Liberalism, has been around since the 19th century. This earliest form however, is referred to as "Classical-Liberalism" and was the antithesis of Socialism. According to Wikipedia, the core beliefs of Classical-Liberalism are:

"... classical liberals made four assumptions about human nature: People were "egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic". Being egoistic, people were motivated solely by pain and pleasure. Being calculating, they made decisions intended to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. If there were no opportunity to increase pleasure or reduce pain, they would become inert. Therefore, the only motivation for labor was either the possibility of great reward or fear of hunger. This belief led classical liberal politicians to pass the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which limited the provision of social assistance. On the other hand, classical liberals believed that men of higher rank were motivated by ambition. Seeing society as atomistic, they believed that society was no more than the sum of its individual members. These views departed from earlier views of society as a family and, therefore, greater than the sum of its members". 

In addition, our friends at "The Wiki" add this rather chilling observation about Classical-Liberalism:

"Adopting Thomas Malthus's population theory, they saw poor urban conditions as inevitable, as they believed population growth would outstrip food production; and they considered that to be desirable, as starvation would help limit population growth. They opposed any income or wealth redistribution, which they believed would be dissipated by the lowest orders".

 Friedrich Hayek
It's no small wonder given the above description that both Milton Friedman and his mentor, Friedrich Hayek are both listed as Classical-Liberals. Though if I hadn't known better, I would have thought that the above description from Wikipedia more accurately described today's more radical right-wing Conservatives. Case in point, I would have assumed the doctrine of Classical-Liberalism sounds more like that of Stephen Harper and his Merry band of Neo-Cons.

 It's interesting to note that Tom Flanagan, A senior member of the "Calgary School" of Economics (a parallel of the Chicago School) is a Conservative, a Senior Fellow at the Conservative leaning Fraser Institute (That's right, the same Fraser institute that has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the American Free-Booting, tea-sipping Koch brothers) and was a top adviser to our Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Yet Flanagan claims to be an adherent of the 
 Friedrich Hayek school of economic and political thought. Hayek of course, being a Classical-Liberal.

Tom Flanagan
Today's Classical-Liberals are more accurately referred to as Libertarians. There are varying degrees of Libertarians, all of whom advocate for limited Government, the most extreme of whom, would be anarchists who believe there should be no government what-so-ever.

So, what does all this blather actually mean? Well it means that people like Milton Friedman,  Friedrich Hayek, Tom Flanagan and  Stephen Harper, just to name a few, can accurately label themselves as not just Conservatives, or Neo-Conservatives or Ultra Right-Wing Conservatives, they can also lay claim to the monikers of Liberals, Classical-Liberals or Libertarians. All of which leaves me very, very confused.

Stephen Harper
So I think that the terms "Conservative" and "Liberal" are now entirely out-dated and inaccurate. Even the term "Capitalist" is inaccurate as  Capitalism can be embraced by either modern social-Liberals OR Progressive  Conservatives. But I think there are two phrases that more accurately sum up the two schools of thought that currently find themselves at war with each other.  One is: "Corporatism" which embraces all those notions of Free-Markets and no government, the rich get richer while the poor become cattle for the industrial elite.

The other phrase is a very old one. It's been demonized over the years, starting with the "Red Scare" of the late 40s. It's been drilled into our heads as being a description of evil itself. But today, this label is the antithesis of Corporatism. It is the only one that speaks to a social conscience. It is the only one that embraces equality, progressiveness, all-inclusiveness. It speaks to the rights and freedoms of every citizen in our country. That phrase is "Socialism".

It's time that label was seen in a new light. That it be stripped of the demonic aura that was cast upon it by the Corporatists of Post War America. Socialism is the only label and school of thought that now accurately expresses and encompasses the needs and rights of the average citizen.

We are trapped in a culture war ladies and gentlemen. Harper, Flanagan Friedman and the Corporatists have drawn up the battle lines and you and I are most definitely not on their side. The only way to fight for our rights, to fight for our freedom, to fight the Corporatists, is with Socialism. And yet the one political party in our country who can claim to have a social-democratic conscience, is looking at removing the word "Socialist" from it's mission statement.

So we have to either learn to embrace the concept of Socialism, to stop viewing it as the "Great Red Evil" or learn to embrace the Corporatist role for 99% of all citizens, you and I that is,  as mindless cattle or slave labor for the uber-rich elite.

Social Democracy