I have been enjoying my lovely vacation so much I forgot to blog yesterday! At first I was horrified because how could I forget something like that? But then I laughed because obviously I am feeling relaxed and have managed to step outside the usual tight schedule of my daily life. I have been reading lots about economics. After finishing Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction by Manfred Steger and Ravi Roy and getting towards the end of another book on economics I have gained just enough knowledge to be dangerous!
Dangerous because this morning while listening to National Public Radio they were talking to an economist who happens to be the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank about this brilliant idea to regulate banks so that the only money they can invest/speculate with/lend is their own money and not their depositors (that would be money that belongs to you and me). This, I know now, is not a new idea. There was a law passed in 1933 by FDR that enforced this very thing and it worked well.
Bookman was in the kitchen making blueberry cornbread pancakes and not really listening to the radio so was quite startled when I burst out with an angry stream of epithets and accusations. Then I started yelling about Glass-Steagall and Reaganomics and the Savings and Loan collapse and how Glass-Steagall worked and if it hadn’t been whittled to nothing by Reagan and then repealed (Bill Clinton how could you!) a lot of the financial system fuck ups we’ve had since the 1980s probably wouldn’t have happened. Bookman gawped at me until I began to run out of steam then he quietly said, I have no idea what you are talking about.
I tried to explain but started to get myself worked up again. Bookman shook his head then put pancakes in front of me so I was instantly distracted. Wise man!
Neoliberalism is a very short introduction at only 135 pages of text followed by a few additional pages of source material and an index. And yet I managed to insert almost all of my numerous page points onto this small book’s pages. It manages to cover a lot of ground starting with what is “neo” about neoliberalism. It traces the development of various kinds of neoliberalism from Reaganomics to Thatcherism, to the neoliberalism with a heart of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (ha!) and the disaster that was George W. Bush. Obama is not immune either.
We get to see what neoliberalism has done to Latin America, Africa and Asia too. And I learned about how the WTO and the IMF forced countries to cave in to neoliberal policies in order to receive any kind of aid. And the thing is, it was already known that neoliberal policies would create more wealth for the already rich and make life miserable for everyone else. Sure, at first when markets were opened and regulations erased, the economy would have a small boom but that would very quickly be followed by lots of average people losing their jobs and the government would no longer have any kind of safety net or cash reserves to provide assistance. It is sickening and disheartening.
The book being so short of course shakes everything down to the basics but this is good because it makes it easy to grasp the concepts and build a foundation from which to further investigate. The authors are excellent at inserting little boxes to further define terms and explain events and organizations. However, there is so much here that it is impossible to remember it all. Still, it is a start, and as I continue reading ideas and concepts are being reinforced and nuances and details are added.
I have a few basic takeaways from the book. The down and dirty basics of neoliberalism no matter what form it takes: deregulation of the economy, liberalization of trade and industry, privatization of state-owned enterprises. The United States and the UK are responsible for messing up the economies of a large portion of the world. Reagan was a horrible man and Thatcher was a horrible woman. Alan Greenspan is, I have no words for this man but I think he should be in prison.
So there you go. I highly recommend Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction to help you become dangerous too. News reports that used to mean nothing much at all will suddenly be so full of poop you will wonder how many baths you will need to take to wash off all those years you allowed it to flood over you. You will be armed enough to know when you are being lied to, which you will quickly discover is almost all the time. You will get mad and spit and splutter and surprise loved ones with your outbursts. But, you will be armed, you will know to ask questions, you will not docilely accept the word of “expert economists” and in spite of all that, you will keep reading because you will have to know, want to know, more.