One persistent fact within this complex history of uneven neoliberalization has been the universal tendency to increase social inequality and to expose the least fortunate elements in any society—be it in Indonesia, Mexico, or Britain—to the chill winds of austerity and the dull fate of increasing marginalization. While such a trend has been ameliorated here and there by social policies, the effects at the other end of the social spectrum have been quite spectacular. The incredible concentrations of wealth and power that now exist in the upper echelons of capitalism have not been seen since the 1920s. The flows of tribute into the world’s major financial centres have been astonishing. What, however, is even more astonishing is the habit of treating all of this as a mere and in some instances even unfortunate byproduct of neoliberalization. The very idea that this might be—just might be—the fundamental core of what neoliberalization has been about all along appears unthinkable. It has been part of the genius of neoliberal theory to provide a benevolent mask full of wonderful-sounding words like freedom, liberty, choice, and rights, to hide the grim realities of the restoration or reconstitution of naked class power, locally as well as transnationally, but most particularly in the main financial centres of global capitalism.
In the four months that Florida’s law was in place, the state drug tested 4,086 TANF applicants. A mere 108 individuals tested positive. To put it another way, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive for illegal drugs — a rate more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of all Floridians, age 12 and up, estimated by the federal government to use illegaldrugs. Now might be a good time to remind folks that in the debate over the bill, Gov. Rick Scott argued that this law was necessary because, he said, welfare recipients used drugs at a higher rate than the general population.
The utter absurdity of this law is magnified when you realize how much it cost the state of Florida to run this program. The data released today shows that Florida spent $118,140 reimbursing the overwhelming number of Florida TANF applicants — 3,938 to be exact — who tested negative for drugs. That is far more than any money saved by the program, at a net cost to the State of over $45,000. And that’s only part of the cost to the state to run this program. There are also the administrative costs, staff costs, and, of course, the litigation costs. Furthermore, the testing program didn’t deter individuals from applying for help — an internal document about TANF caseloads revealed that, at least from July through September, the policy did not lead to fewer cases.
Money nowadays is a purely political instrument. Some people—central bankers, to some degree ordinary banks, and even the financial divisions of large firms—have the right to generate it, to make up money, relatively as they wish. Banks after all don’t mostly lend money they actually have, they lend money they just made up—if under certain constraints. So the rhetoric people use, that “there’s only so much money” is nonsense. Money isn’t like oil, it’s not even like bananas, you can’t actually run out of it. So the scam is to allow some people to just whisk it into existence and then, even more importantly, to say that other people can’t. In a way banks’ ability to make money is not so outrageous since money is basically debt—it’s an IOU, a promise, and in a free society everyone should have the right to make promises. In a way, that’s what being “free” means. The problem is in our society, the only really important promises are financial, and some people are granted the political right to make as many of these as they like, with little or no responsibility for keeping them, and others (the politically powerless) are not, and everyone acts as if the most important moral responsibility everyone has is to pay back money that others were allowed to simply make up. This is particularly ridiculous in the case of governments, who grant the banks the right to make up the money, and then act as if they have no choice but to honor their commitments to these same people. It’s all nonsense.
In part, I guess, the real problem is the middle class. These are the people who mostly don’t even like capitalism very much, but are obsessed with stability, and are endlessly taught that no alternative is possible. Therefore when capitalism starts breaking down, as it does every decade or two, they’re the people who have to effectively hold their noses and put it all back together again, somehow, even though mostly they don’t even like the system particularly. The moment it doesn’t seem like their only option, the moment other systems actually look viable, the fact that those other systems are more fulfilling will make a huge difference.
It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish…