“What’s good for M&M enterprises is good for the country”.
In Catch-22, Milo Minderbinder uses this mantra to justify every action he takes to increase his profits, including shredding the bomber crews’ parachutes to serve up as inedible food (replacing their real food, which he has sold off) and directing US crews to bomb their own airfield. The senior officers are complicit in all his undertakings as they are shareholders.
Heller’s entrepreneur paraphrases that much-used part of the neoliberal creed; the “invisible hand” argument of Adam Smith:
“By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”
In an unintentional homage to “The Life of Brian”, neoliberals re-interpret the text as follows, by replacing:
- “his own interest” with “his own selfish accumulation of wealth”
- “he” with “the entrepreneur, banker, hedge fund manager, tax-evader, … “
- “frequently” with “inevitably”
- “that of the society” with “your economic well-being”
- “when he really intends to promote it.” with “any Government can.”
Thus in the heaven (or haven) that is an unregulated, ungoverned, untaxed “free market”, individual acts of self-interest produce a common wealth which is unachievable in the presence of any regulation, taxation, or government.
This “free market” world where not just the best, but the only way to help your fellow human beings is to act only in your own self-interest is what Margaret Thatcher idealised when she declared that there was no such thing as society. To the neoliberal, society is a false construct, a failure.
What Heller demonstrates satirically, but what most of humanity experiences painfully, is that obedience to this text justifies any act, whether it is refusing to pay taxes, selling arms, exceeding the speed limit, expelling toxic substances from your factory, or selling your daughter into prostitution.
Or, indeed, selling your neighbour’s daughter into prostitution. It is unsurprising that in the neoliberal state people are enormously frightened of crime and violence. Government has been reduced to the role of policing the victims of insecure, low-paid employment and unemployment and preventing them from disrupting the upward flow of capital: it has no presence in the domain of securing citizens.
While western politicians envy the absence of workers’ rights in China and the vast profits to be made with such lowered costs, journalist Ed Vulliamy describes the even more perfect (neoliberal) capitalism of the Mexican drug cartels.
It does not matter, according to the faith of the invisible hand, how we treat any other human: except that we must not have a care to their well-being, and we must avoid collaboration. In the absurd manichaeistic quasi-religion of neoliberalism (“Those who are not with us are against us”) The Muppets truly are Communists, by the argument that 1/ Anyone who is not neoliberal is a Communist 2/ The occupants of Sesame Street help each other to do simple arithmetic and even show interest for each other, therefore 3/ The Muppets are Communist.
The neoliberal trope of “individual responsibility” is in reality its opposite: we are called upon to be irresponsible; to avoid feelings for others and acting to help others. The greatest enemy of neoliberalism is perhaps empathy: it is unsurprising that neoliberal states use an omnipresent barrage of stories and “news” intended to make us see all other humans as being guilty for our own discontents and dissatisfactions. In the neoliberal state, everyone is our enemy.
Cameron’s “Big Society” is thus revealed as nothing more than a new brand name for the “natural order” of “free markets”. Neoliberal thought is inhumane.