McCloskey NeoliberalismInterview

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Entrevista com Deirdre Mccloskey sobre neoliberalismo
  1 Draft of September 7, 2016 Liberalism, Neoliberalism, and the Literary Left Deirdre Nansen McCloskey An interview by W. Stockton and D. Gilson, eds., Neoliberalism in Literary and Cultural Studies. Forthcoming as a special issue of either Public Cultures  or Cultural Critique   D.N.Mc:  I am always glad to respond to queries from my friends on the left. I was myself once a Joan-Baez socialist, so I know how it feels, and honor the impulse. I’ve noticed that the right tends to think of folk s on the left as merely misled, and therefore improvable by instruction — if they will but listen. The left, on the other hand, thinks of folks on the right as non-folk, as evil , as “pro - business,” as against the poor. Therefore the left is not ready to listen to the instruction so helpfully proffered by the right. Why listen to Hitler? For instance, no one among students of literature who considers herself deeply interested in the economy, and left-leaning since she was 16, bothers to read with the serious and open-minded attention she gives to a Harvey or Wallerstein or Jameson anything by Friedman or Mill or Smith. (Foucault, incidentally, was an interesting exception.) Please, dears. I’ ve also noticed that the left assumes that it is dead easy  to refute the so-called neoliberals. Yet the left does not actually understand most of the arguments the neoliberals make. I don’t mean it disagrees  with the arguments. I mean it does n’t  understand them. Not at all. It’ s easy to show. For example, go to the bottom of p. 6 of the English translation of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century  to see a butchering of the elementary analysis of entry at the smell of profits. This from an economist  on the left. Robert Reich, Tony Judt, Naomi Klein can provide other examples. For example, the left supposes that the liberals/libertarians /”conservatives”  rely on trickle-down, even though the enrichment of the poor from trade-tested betterment since 1800 has been more like a fire hose than a trickle, and has had nothing to do with trickling down from the making of Rolexes or the building of mansions It supposes, too, that the “invisible hand” is a mere dogma, even though trade-tested betterment — the result of cooperation and competition in markets, observable every time you find a loaf of bread miraculously available in the grocery store — has repeatedly been shown to be bettering compared with the alternatives, such as East Germany. I have faced the easy-refutability assumption ever since I stopped being a marxoid and started to grasp the argument and evidence that people like Robert Nozick or Milton Friedman or Israel Kirzner put forward. My leftish interlocutors are regularly astonished    2 when I deploy very ordinary 19 th -century liberal arguments. Commonly, they have never heard them articulated. They are gob-smacked that anyone would seriously claim, for example, that supply and demand curves pretty much govern prices in actual economies from Venezuela to Virginia. Please, please. W.S. and D.C.:  . I’d like to begin by asking you to respond to the term “neoliberalism,” at least as it refers to a general set of political and economic ideas and policies. In the words of David Harvey, “neoliberalism,” as variously put into practice by st ate leaders like Ronald Reagan in the United States and Marga ret Thatcher in Britain, as well as Deng Xiaoping in China, “proposes that human well -being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (  A Brief History of Neoliberalism , Oxford UP, 2). Neoliberal politicians and economists promote the deregulation of industry, labor, and financial markets. They promote the privatization of formerly state provisions like education and prisons. I know David a little — he hosted me for a talk I gave in the early 1990s (as Donald!) at  Johns Hopkins, and a couple of years ago we reconnected briefly at a speech he gave in Chicago. (He seemed then a little uneasy about my gender change. Understandable.) Though he has never grasped elementary economics, or done the homework, I admire his vigor and intelligence in argument, and in particular his courageous battle long ago against the IRS. That sweetly statist institution audited him in the Nixon era  seven  times, as punishment for his eloquent opposition to the Vietnam War. Good for David. I entirely agree with his definition of neoliberalism. So understood, it’s  the same as the old, classical liberalism of Adam Smith and J. S. Mill. By contrast, the century-long weirdness in the definition of “liberal” in the Anglosphere — as “ slow socialism ”— came from Britain late in the 19 th  century and from the US in the early 20 th  century. “ Neoliberalism, ”  properly defined nowadays brings us back to the Blessed Adam Smith’s definition  in 1776 , as “allowing every man [and woman, dear] to pursue his own interest in his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice.”  I take it we all approve of such a plan. I take it that no one here is against  equality, liberty, and justice. So from now on I am going to call what you call neo-liberalism just “liberalism.” In my book Bourgeois Dignity  (2016) I claimed that liberalism caused the modern world. I wish I had had the wit to add the word “liberal” to the subtitle, How [Liberal] Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World.   It’s too late now, but if I someday get a new edition I’ll add “liberal.”  Put it this way. As a liberal I want you to be permitted to do things, such as setting up as a hairdresser free of regulation or buying a car from Japan or Korea free of tariffs or sending your children to any K – 12 school you or a poor neighbor wants (with, however, IRS-imposed taxes, which for this purpose I enthusiastically support, on relatively high-income people like you and me and David to  finance   the poor person’s  choice — with vouchers, for example, such as “socialist” Sweden has introduced massively since the 1990s).  3 By contrast, in his opposition to neoliberalism, David, as a socialist, slow or fast, wants you when trying to do such things to be in fact violently forced, limited, restricted, leashed by law backed by police. He wants you to have access only to an expensive haircut or to have to pay more for an auto to protect US jobs or to get free education only through socialized elementary education provided by an ideologically interested state and a state-capturing bureaucracy and its trade unions, all of them backed by the threat or the actuality of state violence — such as by the IRS. If you practice as a hairdresser in Illinois without a license (to be acquired only by two years of education), you are fined and then jailed. If you try to arrange a trade between Mr. Ishishi in Japan who makes and sells autos and Mr. Smith in New York who is willing to pay for one, and if you refuse to pay the tariff to the U.S. government to spend on wars such as Vietnam or Iraq, you are audited and fined and then jailed. And so forth. Many statist educational or health systems worldwide  prohibit  private side deals for further education or health. You’ll forgive me, I hope, when I say that it all reminds me of the prohibitions of queers 1880 – 1990 — that, too, was backed by state violence, against which, like the war on blacks with cocaine in the 1990s, the left on the whole did not complain. The definition  of neo- and nineteenth-century- and down to the present European- “ liberalism ”  is laissez faire, laissez passer  . By all means, let us have courts to adjudicate property rights and have police to go after force and fraud and have a coast guard to prevent Canada from invading Maine and have a nuclear deterrent to prevent Putin from getting his way all the time. Use independent courts and adversarial procedures to handle non-agreed agreements, such as bank fraud and food poisoning and gross negligence, not state pre-regulations that are most usually taken over by the special interests being “regulated . ”  Enforce the First Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. Get the rest of state violence out of our lives and depend mainly instead voluntary agreements. Keep state violence only for the few good functions of government I mention — not roads, for example, which could be and should be privatized, as they were in the hundreds of turnpikes in Britain and North America in the 18 th  and 19 th  centuries, and still are in country roads in Sweden. We should remove from our lives, and send to work on mutually agreeable making and selling, all the violence-enabled people like Colbert or Big Bill Thompson or the inquisitors at the National Industrial Recovery Administration or the accountants in the modern IRS collecting massive sums to spend on warfare and corruption and the regulation of hairdressing and subsidies to cotton farmers under “programs”  favoring the richest among us. Laissez faire has been tried out extensively since the 18 th  century. No one claims it has been pure. But its impurity is not decisive, considering the actual performance of the state mercantilism it replaced or the state socialism that dirigistes want to replace it with. It is always under attack. Interfering in other people’s business is attractive to authoritarians. (Ask yourself: are you one? Why?) Hong Kong after 1947 has been close to pure laissez faire . Leaving people alone has its own considerable merit. And a consequence has been that average income in Hong Kong — once equal to the pathetic level of the mainland — is now above that of the US. The poorest people in Hong Kong  4 are now rich by international standards. The claim in social democratic countries (which include, if you look seriously at the programs, the United States) to “help the poor”— despite the small share of governmental activity that in fact does so — persuades the modern Slow Socialists to favor state violence over agreements. The big modern examples of improvements through economic liberalism are China and India. But the biggest example of the economic good of liberalism is historical, the “bourgeois revaluation,” as I call it, support ed by a liberal ideology birthed in the 18 th  century, which despite all the attacks by statists, especially in the 20 th  century under socialism and fascism, led to the modern world and to increases in real income per head on the order to 3,000 to 10,000 percent. Listen to that: 3,000 to 10,000 percent. What redistributive policy could achieve such an enrichment of the poor? Liberalism did not need to be perfectly laissez faire  to do its work. Moving in a liberal direction, as India did after 1991, sufficed to raise growth rates per person from 1% a year to 7% per year. At 7% per year, Indian real income has doubled every ten years. In a couple of generations the Indians, if they keep being a little liberal, will have income equal to that of Americans. They also shrink the social safety net, cutting welfare, unemployment, and other programs that aid the  poor. No, they don’t, on several counts. For one thing,   “programs that [are ‘designed  to ’ ] aid the poor” are not the same as “programs that [actually] aid the poor.” I do wish progressives would note the difference, at any rate as a possibility to be looked into factually. I am a Christian libertarian, and acknowledge a responsibility to help the wretched of the earth. “For the needy shall not always be forgotten” (Ps. 10 .18). I tithe to my Episcopal church, which runs charities that work. I recently housed in my own home two homeless people for 4 ½ years. But I want to actually  help the poor, not merely make myself  feel  charitable and Progressive over my second cappuccino perusing the editorial pages of the Times . Using state violence to force someone else to “help the poor” is attractive if you don’t think too much about state violence, or have never been its victim, or have never actually helped any poor people. For instance, the minimum wage is said nowadays to be “designed” to help the poor. In actuality it drives the very poorest among us out of getting any job at all. Thus ex-cons, or black young men, or Chicano high-school dropouts. A hundred years ago when the minimum was designed and imposed by literal Progressives, first in Australia and then state-by-state in the US, it was designed explicitly, confessedly, without shame, and on openly eugenic grounds to drive immigrants, blacks, Chicanos, the handicapped, and women entirely out of paid labor, leaving the white, male, American-born in possession of all the jobs. Look it up. Modern p rogressives don’t know the history, and think as they read and sip and turn the page that raising the minimum wage helps the poor. It doesn’t. It injures the poorest, in aid of, for example, union members.
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