Neoliberalism as Salesmanship and Social Ethics
By Wendell W. Solomons
I was trying to work out how best to attract your attention to this account.
Most of my work today is in advertising and an affinity helped me. In slices of modern economic writing reproduced by the newspapers, you sometimes notice men trying to manage concepts and perceptions.
That's something advertising men are asked to do daily. The Madison Avenue ad man is the one who displays a sign at his door to indicate that he undertakes to order concept-creation, visualization, for commercial audiences. He sometimes fine-tunes his message to activate a specific market segment first. Say, for instance, "COOL TEENS LIVE 7UP".
In economists' discussions you sometimes hear claims that their economics too is an art in the field of mass psychology.
Milton Friedman has greatly influenced the way economists go about their business. His method became pronounced after he became U.S. presidential advisor in 1976.
After that tour of duty, here's an idea Friedman expressed in the 1990s:
By April 13th, both institution heads had got to firefighting on TV. Stanley Fischer and James Wolfensohn of the IMF and World Bank respectively, wanted to turn around the heads of demonstrators so that the latter would return quietly to their homes across the U.S.
How was the face-off to end?
Wall Street stockbrokers had heard on TV the perception control story of one or the other of the officers. Then word went around the market.
On April 14th, two days before the main scheduled rally, Wall Street stockbrokers hit the very bottom of a black mood. Stocks plunged lower than during Black Friday week in 1929. The market fell 25%, losing $2 trillion for the week.
Analysts in Newsweek magazine of April 25th estimate that the largest ever loss of money in a single day in history had happened.
Take the paradox in perceptions that led to this outcome.
Here were two officers in action, the heads of the IMF and World Bank; Friedman considers them astute for they think primarily (a) within Friedman's own framework, neoliberalism. The two officers had to take on the problem of sending home demonstrators who were executing (b) Friedman's own verdict on the IMF.
To the two senior executives, the Friedman whom they had known expressed the idea of closing the IMF only as a conceptual, perceptional canard.
The two men would have asked, "Who in the REAL world would close it when there is no other means for attending to adjustments for poor nations with balance of payments problems currently?" Friedman had calculated ahead that people who were irked about the poor countries would shoot themselves in the foot if they were to carry on with that line of reasoning.
In short, here was persuasion control that ad men understand. However, it ran riot in the U.S. and thence - all major markets in the world.
The International Association of Advertising Agencies ran a commercial you may have seen on TV. It is on the theme, Your Right to Choose. It was run because it is a profitable theme for ad agencies.
As long as people can be persuaded about their Right to Choose, we in the advertising industry get to make money by hinting that people might choose drinks like 7UP. In that particular instance, we get to earn revenue by asking people put cash on the counter and summon up a mild solution of citric acid instead of bothering about fresh orange juice or a glass of milk.
So Your Right to Choose is also the ad industry's own puffery, which is supposed to sustain revenues from corporate clients. Advertising men picked up the idea from a video already displayed for some 25 years.
This is the TV serial Free to Choose, which Milton Friedman made together with his wife.
There he engages you, elevates you, flatters you - and makes you believe that you choose without reckoning why corporate clients do business with advertising agencies. Allegedly, the consumer is king. Allegedly, the consumer chooses citric acid without the advertising agency getting paid by its now enormous transnational client.
The videos on ads and economics, use flattery. We appeal to human vanity. We build our business on stimulating conceit.
I want to describe how we went rather too far down the road.
The typewriter is quite logical for Russian citizens who faced the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, and its successors under the Bolsheviks. In such circumstances, a private typewriter was the classic way of pamphleteering in a readable typeface without unwelcome visits from the police. Other recipients down the line re-type the text if it sounds interesting. And so the message fans out. Samoizdat (self-publishing) became known outside Russia during the battles of people like physicist Andrei Sakharov.
The lady behind this typewriter was born in St. Petersburg in 1905 as Alice Rosenbaum. She must be understood as a backer of the Russian nihilist tradition, which she met every week when she read history at university in St. Petersburg. We must also consider the circumstances that formed her immediate upbringing, that her father Franz, ran a pharmacy and that the family lost its livelihood. Then, growing as circumstances forced among people traumatized twice over by war and revolution in the years 1905 and 1913-17, Alice Rosenbaum finally arrived in the southern port city of Odessa and made her way out in 1926 to the U.S.
The youthful historian chanced to begin script editing and script writing through an introduction across the coast in Hollywood. That was perhaps her first experience of working with the emotions of large audiences. She was to go on and write several books and among other men subsequently attracted to her Saturday evenings was Allan Greenspan. He then played in a jazz combo but rose to the position of Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System through introductions in the Nixon Administration after the lady named him her "disciple."
Without the description above, it is impossible to understand the significance in our world of the modern prophetess, whose name is even hidden from her audiences.
Look now at this quote from her 1937 book, "Anthem":
I have great faith in fools - my friends call it self-confidence. - Edgar Allen Poe
The release from captivity under the Pharaohs brought the First Mosaic Commandment into its own. It comes to us in the Pentateuch, repeated formally in three books - Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus:
It was 9 o'clock in the evening and I went to a park. The green park was deserted except for an illuminated, large statue of the seated Buddha. The scene was very tranquil and I could walk around until I composed myself by deciding on an outline of what I could say in this account.
There I was, near a statue of the Buddha. Where does idolatry really begin? Why is it so important that a warning appears in the leading, prime Commandment?
I want to mention here something important to the arrangement of a Buddhist center of worship.
The classical, cardinal point is an axis that represents, like the familiar Xmas tree of Santa Claus, an earth-to-sky line. This line is created by a Bo tree. More, the 30-metre tall tree of the fig family gives you shelter with its sturdy and wide, leafy branches. Ficus religiosa is among the longest living trees botanists know. The one in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka is dated to early times. Tradition takes it as far back as the 3rd Century BCE.
If walls seem important to the places of worship of West Asia, Buddhists have made only feeble attempts in that direction. Right into Japan, even the discipline of geometric, visual perspective, essential to Michelangelo's paintings in churches, was little used.
For the Buddhist, it is classically the tree, which provides a place of tranquility and refuge - at one with nature. The longevity of the tree also provides a link with other generations born and one realizes, still to be born. So this is not the place for one's self alone, but a situation for invoking and remembering a continuity with nature and community. This is a situation for overcoming the benumbing of the mind's faculties and the alienating influence of the week's dismays, both positive and negative.
On the other hand, it is a very DIFFERENT matter to take a tree, a statue, an altar, a liturgy, not as a means of reaching oneness, but as means of worshiping oneself.
If I had placed a mirror in front of myself and worshipped it, then it would have been clear and obvious that I was worshiping myself. In that I would be creating a closed circuit. I would be clearly seen to be narcissistic.
Exodus, Deuteronomy and Leviticus do not give us behests against creating, crafting or building forms of synagogues, churches or mosques that help us prepare for contemplation and devotion. The First Mosaic Commandment spoke to men of 600 BCE warning them not to worship themselves. To do so, would end in folly and imaginings that it is always the other person, who will go down, not the god himself.
For such a god wholly REPLICATED by the statue, no mortal code would apply. For this god, stealing from a man is merely acquisition. For this god, the killing of a man is merely the death of a mortal. For this god, dishonoring elders and mortals is merely a matter of expediency.
Breaking the First Commandment is the key to suspending all the others. So if we think to bow down to ourselves as gods we would destroy each other even within the family. Civilization would vanish.
The Russian population is estimated to have declined by 2 million people. The drop in nutritional standards has left the post-Soviet population of 300 million an incubator for diseases such as multi-drug resistant TB. The drift of the economic grid has sent fissile materials scientists and engineers out to work in other countries.
Outgoing World Bank Chief Economist, Joseph Stiglitz, was saying in 1999:
Planning for Unilever or Shell BP is done today at a central office. This is centralized planning of a high order with the supreme morality for a nihilist planner - an opportunist sycophancy to the man in the seat above. With Thomas Hobbes, as with Ayn Rand. it ends in a battle of each against the other.
Inside such executive suites, nihilists of corporations may swagger and set off problems in countries peopled by ordinary mortals. Do these mortals matter?
The fact is that people who are rallying in the protests in the U.S. have their own way of working things out. Among the ideas they have worked out is that neoliberal policies are tuned to inducing debt in poor countries so as to extract interest for rich bankers. Milton Friedman said that in August 1998:
A TIME FOR EVERYTHING
The rallies got to conclusions like Friedman's though they worked things out in their own way.
These were once diverse environmental groups. Fellowship in their groups has brought out, say, how timber logging is affecting groundwater and the earth's environment. They have seen a larger picture through thinking together in their groups.
They have seen some of these logging operations financed by "gods" of corporate suites. In their affinity groups they are noticing countries becoming destabilized. They therefore ask how the U.S., with life support facilities for 5% of the world's population, can play host to migrants uprooted from Albania (here, "privatization") through the alphabet of country names to Zaire (there, "structural adjustment.")
The activists are noticing the artificiality of the bloom in the U.S. where merchandise trade runs at $200 billion in the red. That is now the chronic, year by year, deficit. They are asking why Americans are importing more than they export though they work the longest week for any industrialized country. They are asking why U.S. citizens are falling into jail, in relation to population size, at 5 times the Chinese rate.
Citing such problems, these rallies seem destined to agitate all over the United States at a level not seen since the Vietnam War.
On Friday, May 12th, Antonia Luhasz*, an activist of the "American Lands Alliance", posted a first email about this target to [a16-dc-planning], an open Internet activists' list. Luhasz intimates:
* Friedman's two statements above contain phrases on the IMF. "It's bailing out the bankers in New York and in London, and Berlin" AND "using taxpayers' money." This sums up much of a logic that Antonia Luhasz follows: the distribution of majority shares in the IMF makes the representation and promotion of private banking interests by the U.S. Treasury Department natural and fundamental to the IMF mechanism.
May 20, 2000
© 2000 by Wendell W. Solomons
All rights reserved.