A free-market Al Qaeda "encloses the commons"

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I’m starting the day with a piece by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Ehrenreich, from the Los Angeles Times Sunday opinion page. She points out, amusingly, that the administration’s stated Iraq “package” — at least the rhetoric — sounds remarkably like socialism, or at the very least like a set of policies we badly need here at home. She points out, however, that the invasion and pounding from the air that would precede the package might take away significantly from its impact and suggests instead a “mass emigration to Iraq.”

Of course, underneath all the pretty words, this administration is planning to strip down Iraq too — they actually don’t have far to go — in a severe combination of corporate “privatization” and military occupation. But Ehrenreich’s point about what’s happening here couldn’t be better taken. Without the accompanying invasion and air strikes, this country is being stripped of its “commons,” which thanks to tax cuts, administration rule changes, and god knows what else is being financially starved to death.

Environmental author Richard Behan takes on the “enclosure of the commons” (and particularly the common lands, the national parks) by what he calls a “free market al Qaeda,” in an important essay at the environmental website Tidepool, which I urge you to consider. In the process, he also lays out a forty-year history of the privatization of our country, of the loss of the “public” and with it of that most public of all things, democracy, which is, of course, the political commons; and he highlights the dirty dozen right-wing foundations that lay behind and massively funded this agenda which is coming into full flowering with the present administration.

Finally, Robert Dreyfuss in the most recent Nation magazine discusses another aspect of what’s changing in this country — the creation of the U.S. Northern Command or Northcom, a military command, formed post-September 11th (in fact, inconceivable before it) meant to operate here, among us. With its “national security special events” like the Olympics and the Super Bowl, it will be dedicated to militarizing ever more aspects of our lives and our society. As the commons shrinks, the military grows. You could say that the military is our new “commons,” about as close to “socialism” as we’re likely to get. There’s no reason for surprise. An ever growing militarized empire, like all empires, can’t help but bring its methods, and its methods of thinking, back to the now renamed “homeland.” Tom

Socialism Lives!
Bush describes a utopia of nationalized oil and universal health care. But only for Iraq.
By Barbara Ehrenreich
The Los Angeles Times
May 11, 2003

KEY WEST, Fla. – With Washington fixated on the looming war between the departments of State and Defense, almost no one has noticed an even stranger development within the Bush administration – its sudden, and apparently wholehearted, embrace of socialism.

Echoing sentiments expressed in an earlier era by Eugene V. Debs and Woody Guthrie, Colin Powell declared recently, “Iraq’s oil belongs to the Iraqi people.” There’s been no comment yet from Exxon Mobil on the possible application of this principle to the homeland, but Powell’s words seemed sincere – unlike those other feel-good phrases the right’s always tossing off, like “compassionate conservatism” and “free elections.”

KEY WEST, Fla. – With Washington fixated on the looming war between the departments of State and Defense, almost no one has noticed an even stranger development within the Bush administration – its sudden, and apparently wholehearted, embrace of socialism.

Echoing sentiments expressed in an earlier era by Eugene V. Debs and Woody Guthrie, Colin Powell declared recently, “Iraq’s oil belongs to the Iraqi people.” There’s been no comment yet from Exxon Mobil on the possible application of this principle to the homeland, but Powell’s words seemed sincere – unlike those other feel-good phrases the right’s always tossing off, like “compassionate conservatism” and “free elections.”

In fact, the conservative press is filled with ideas for how to distribute the wealth to the people and keep it out of the hands of “Iraqi elites.”

In addition to spreading the oil wealth around, the Bush administration has committed itself to generous public services – though only, so far, in Iraq

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America.”

To read more Ehrenreich click here

The Free Market Al-Qaeda:
Neoliberalism and the Violence It Does

Some observations inspired by David Bollier’s “Silent Theft: the Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth”
by Richard W. Behan
April 24, 2003

Can a society whose culture is so given over to excessive commercialization ever function as a deliberative democracy? Can the public find and develop its own sovereign voice, or has its character been so transformed by commercial media…that public life will forever be a stunted thing?
–David Bollier, p. 148 in Silent Theft

David Bollier’s important and stimulating book describes a stealthy but cumulatively violent attack on public life in America.

The things we hold and share in common — our culture and public knowledge; public services; public spaces; public lands — are the things that define us as the American people.

Slowly, silently, but deliberately, they are becoming private assets and services, private spaces, and proprietary knowledge, to be turned not to public benefit but to corporate profit. Much that was once public and free has been captured and commercialized, turning the vibrant body politic increasingly into a mundane body economic.

This is not happening by chance. It results from a small group of “free-market” ideologues who set out 40 years ago consciously to achieve precisely this state of affairs, investing hundreds of millions of dollars to advance their ideology. Known today as “neoliberalism,” it is now global in its reach, assaulting in like manner societies around the world. We have on our hands a worldly, Free-Market Al-Qaeda, indulging in violence that is neither physical nor as spectacular as that of its fanatically religious counterpart, but it may be far more consequential.

Mr. Bollier’s book is not a radical critique of all private property and enterprise. It is a fresh and reasoned assertion that something precious will be lost when property and enterprise are all private. And we are headed inexorably in that direction.

Mr. Bollier introduces the notion of the “gift economy.” The original relationship of humans to their biophysical environment functioned that way. Gifts from nature were parceled out as gifts among the members of the group, clan, or tribe, all of which engendered senses of caring and mutual respect in the community — and respect for the community — as well as a spiritual relationship with nature.

The gift economy yet exists in the nurturing of children and aging parents; neighbors helping neighbors; volunteerism of any stripe; free access to undeveloped public land; blood donation; aiding the unfortunate and the poor; freely shared scientific research; charities; the Linux operating system; public libraries; and a shared attraction, perhaps approaching the spiritual, for the national parks and other federal lands. The gift economy gives meaning to the human experience and to our lives as social creatures, and it builds a vibrant body politic.

The advent of specialized labor necessitated exchange, and that led to markets. Markets function when self-interested individuals strike bargains between “willing sellers and willing buyers.” But kindness, giving, cooperation and community are unnecessary, and here is the origin of Mr. Bollier’s concern.

The just and vibrant society exhibits both gift and market economies, Mr. Bollier asserts, but his book describes the accelerating “enclosure of the commons,” the ongoing private seizure of public assets, services, and values, and the “marketizing” of them.

The market seems to be intruding everywhere. Advertising in public schools. The patenting of life forms. Public sports arenas renamed for corporate sponsors. The disappearance of Thanksgiving in a cyclone of Christmas promotions (and pre-school children asking department-store Santas for brand-name toys). Mailboxes (physical and electronic) crammed with junk mail. Proposals to privatize Medicare and Social Security. Et cetera.

“The central role of market forces in American life,” Mr. Bollier exclaims, “is not as distressing as their ubiquity and reach.”

In the public policy arena, enclosure appears as privatization schemes, deregulation programs, various forms of “marketizing,” public agencies “partnering” with corporate providers, and the growing imposition of user’s fees for public services.

This sounds familiar and contemporary because it defines our national political momentum, and essentially of both parties. The momentum is not by accident; it is the result of a deliberate, richly financed campaign to shift public policy sharply to the right.

Dating at least to the publication of Milton Friedman’s book Capitalism and Freedom in 1962, a messianic conviction has taken hold in some quarters that governments suppress individual freedom and markets maximize it. The idea dates from the late 1800s, and that’s why the movement to advance it is known as neoliberalism — but the referent word here is “liberty” (as in “libertarian”). Neoliberalism has nothing to do with progressive political thinking: it is archconservative to the core.

The conviction is held so strongly by 12 right-wing philanthropic foundations that they set out in the 1960s and in concert to overturn a century’s accumulation of progressive public policy. Convinced the nation was drifting into socialism, they sought wherever possible to replace government mechanisms of “command and control” with “market solutions.”

The foundations are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Carthage Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Charles G. Koch, David H. Koch and Claude R. Lambe charitable foundations, the Phillip M. McKenna Foundation, the JM Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Henry Salvatori Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the Smith Richardson Foundation.1

In a beautifully orchestrated program, these foundations — we could call them the Diligent Dozen — spent hundreds of millions of dollars to advance and emplace the neoliberal agenda, creating what has been called a “hegemony of market theology.”

How successful have they been?

The most conspicuous and powerful beneficiaries of this effort are the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute, all in the nation’s capital, and all funded by the Diligent Dozen — since 1985 alone, with more than $88 million. These three think tanks have crafted or influenced virtually the entire programs of both domestic and foreign policy for the George W. Bush Administration. President Bush’s brother, Jeb, serves on the Board of Trustees of the Heritage Foundation. Vice President Cheney’s wife, Dr. Lynn Cheney, is a senior staffer at the American Enterprise Institute, and 20 other AEI staffers now serve in the Bush Administration. The Cato Institute, the champion of privatizing Social Security, was proud to include on its board of directors Mr. Kenneth Lay, the personal and corporate patron of Governor and President Bush, and the sometime CEO of the Enron Corporation.

Across the country are hundreds of other neoliberal organizations, a comprehensive interlocking network, funded by the Diligent Dozen. They focus on a wide range of policy matters, including the federal lands.

The American Recreation Coalition, apparently, provided the lobbying muscle for the controversial Recreation Fee Demonstration Program in 1996, but the ideology and a continued trumpeting of support come straight out of the Diligent Dozen — and in particular, two organizations in its neoliberal network far from Washington DC.

One of these, The Thoreau Institute, directed by Mr. Randal O’Toole, has received more than $200,000 from three of the foundations since 1997. Mr. O’Toole could be called the ideological father of Fee Demo. For years he has been preaching the theology of the market, sermonizing rhapsodically about the virtue of recreation user fees on the federal lands.

The other organization, funded by nine of the Diligent Dozen, is the Political Economy Research Center of Bozeman, Montana. It has been granted, since 1985, more than $4 million. The champion of “free market environmentalism,” this is the group that aggressively advocates privatizing the federal lands — for the bizarre and absurd reason that they “lose money.”

The various receipts collected do indeed fall short of annual appropriations, as PERC claims. That can be seen as “losing money,” however, only by assigning a profit objective for the federal lands, and then doing some Arthur Anderson bookkeeping. (In this case, failing to account for externalized benefits.)

Since Yellowstone National Park was created 131 years ago, the statutory objectives for the federal lands have been exactly otherwise than profit, and for appropriations to be unmatched by income is fully anticipated in any public enterprise. By the logic of the Political Economy Research Center, public libraries “lose money,” too — and so for that matter does the Department of Defense.

The fundamental premise of neoliberalism is that free markets ensure efficiency in resource allocation and management. But the “free market” so cherished by neoliberals and so conceptualized by Adam Smith 200 years ago has long since vanished. Markets are no longer driven by the free bargaining of willing participants, but by policy: frequently by public policy achieved through corporate lobbying, and always by corporate policy, if only in administered prices. Only the truly devout or the tragically deluded will deny the reality of corporate-dominated markets — which have themselves become mechanisms of “command and control.”

Neoliberalism either doesn’t see or doesn’t care that “marketizing,” and privatizing, means corporatizing. Common property becomes not just private, but corporate property. And deregulation favors corporate interests by definition. So the policy tools of neoliberalism encourage and expand the corporate domination of markets, and there is no better example of the result than the social disaster of the Enron Corporation.

Mr. Terry Anderson, PERC’s director and co-author of its privatization report, seems unable to comprehend the federal lands as anything but commercial enterprises that should turn a profit.2 This is not simple myopia, and it is not peculiar to Mr. Anderson.

Discounting and disdaining public life is an insufferable and elitist characteristic of neoliberalism, but if a free and democratic society wishes to create and sustain a system of national parks, say, with public financing for public enjoyment, it can, should, and will do so. Attacking their success is to attack the free and democratic society, so only those fully confident in their religious convictions about markets will attempt it. Mr. Anderson is sufficiently confident to offer his service as an advisor on public lands to the Bush Administration, where his urge to privatize the parks is warmly appreciated.

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton reads from the same neoliberal page as Mr. Anderson. She has undertaken what appears to be an incremental privatization of the National Park Service, beginning with its personnel. Secretary Norton proposes to eliminate almost three-fourths of the full time positions in the Park Service, shifting them to the private sector. That’s a start, but Mr. Anderson’s colleague at PERC, Mr. Donald Leal, is candid about the ultimate neoliberal objective. He suggests in print cutting the National Park Service appropriations eventually to zero.3

Neoliberalism is the positive force pushing the market into every sphere of public agency and concern. And by no means is it limited to the United States.Susan George describes how neoliberalism has become global in fact,4 so to characterize it as a secular Al-Qaeda is not to exaggerate.

The Al-Qaeda is an international sect of religious fanatics bringing enlightenment to the infidels, and doing violence routinely in the name of righteous ideology.

Neoliberalism encompasses an international sect of ideological fanatics, too. The success of the 12 US foundations was matched in the United Kingdom by the Adam Smith Institute, and privatization, deregulation, and the manic stimulation of global “free trade” are pursued by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and neoliberal governments around the world. Arundhati Roy describes in her graceful book the socially disastrous results in India.5

Neoliberalism also does violence routinely, in the name of righteous ideology, but not to buildings, ships, or airplanes. Neoliberalism does violence to public life, to “publicness.”

Publicness takes many forms. Community is one. Assets enjoyed in common are the essence of community, whether we speak of the Boston Commons; Missoula’s Carousel; a public library; a state university; a community theater group; or the national parks. When such things are privatized, corporate commerce gains and community is diminished.

Democracy is another, perhaps ultimate form of publicness. As the empowerment of people to govern themselves freely, as they and they alone see fit, it should be sacrosanct. It is not.

Much has been written about the corporate purchase of the U.S. government with campaign contributions. More has been written about the corporate stranglehold on governments globally via the World Trade Organization. Democracy around the world is under corporate assault, and everywhere the attack draws strength from neoliberal dogma and initiatives.

These initiatives — marketizing, privatizing, deregulating — are not as sudden, dramatic, and terrifying as airplanes crashing into buildings, but over time the violence they do is far greater — to the commons, to community, to democracy.

Do we want our public life to be forever a stunted thing? Do we want it to disappear?

1 See Covington, Sally, “How Conservative Philanthropies and Think Tanks Transform US Policy,” Covert Action Quarterly, Issue #63, Winter, 1998. See also the website of “Mediatransparency,” at

2 Anderson, Terry, Vernon L. Smith and Emily Simmons, “How and Why to Privatize the Federal Lands,” Policy Analysis, No. 363, November 9, 1999. The Cato Institute.

3 Leal, Donald R. and Holly L. Fretwell, “Back to the Future to Save Our Parks,” PERC Policy Series, Issue Number PS-10, June 1997.

4 George, Susan, “A Short History of Neoliberalism: Twenty Years of Elite Economics and Emerging Opportunities for Structural Change.” Conference on “Economic Sovereignty in a Globalizing World,” Bangkok, Thailand, March 24-26, 1999.

5 Roy, Arundhati, Power Politics, South End Press, 2001.

This essay was prepared for the 2003 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, University of Oregon School of Law. March 6-9, 2003, Eugene, Oregon. This paper is not copyrighted, so permission to reproduce it is unnecessary.

Richard W. Behan’s current book is Plundered Promise: Capitalism, Politics, and the Fate of the Federal Lands (Island Press, 2001). Behan is currently working on a more broadly rendered critique, Degenerate Democracy: A Primer On the Corporate Seizure of America’s Agenda.

To read at the original site click here

Bringing the War Home
By Robert Dreyfuss
The Nation
May 26, 2003

Just a year after the attacks of September 11, the Pentagon finally achieved a goal it had been seeking for years: the establishment of a military command for the domestic United States. The supposed rationale for creating the US Northern Command (Northcom, in Pentagon parlance) is primarily an antiterrorist one: to use the armed forces in response to a September 11-style or even more severe attack. “It’s a recognition by the Department of Defense that the world has in fact changed,” says Pete Verga, a retired US Army officer who served as the first head of the Pentagon’s Homeland Security Task Force. “The idea that the homeland is not a combat zone turned out not to be true.”

To read more Dreyfuss click here