Thursday, January 26, 2017

Worldwide Ascendancy of Neoliberalism

As of January 20, 2017, the Neoliberals gained control of the United States Presidency. Two years earlier they consolidated their domination of Congress. And 84.4% of the U.S. population residing in 45 states have chosen to allow Neoliberals to control all, or a meaningful part, of their state government. How did the Neoliberals do this?

In 1938 in Paris two exiles from Austria, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, discovered a shared belief that social democracy was a manifestation of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism, as exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state. So they coined the term Neoliberalism as a label for their view.

In a 1944 book Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. In 1947 he founded the first organization to spread the doctrine of neoliberalism – the Mont Pelerin Society – supported by billionaires and their foundations. Charles Koch, one of the famous or infamous (depending on your point of view) Koch brothers, is a long-standing member.

On the international level, per Wikipedia the Atlas Network was founded in 1981 by Sir Antony Fisher. After founding the Institute of Economic Affairs in London in 1955, Fisher had helped to establish the Fraser Institute, the Manhattan Institute and the Pacific Research Institute in the 1970s. Fisher conceived of Atlas as a means to connect various think tanks via a global network through which the organizations could learn best practices from one another and "pass the best research and policy ideas from one to the other, and so avoid the need to reinvent the wheel." Atlas has been described as "self replicating, a think tank that creates think tank." In addition to the Pacific Research Institute, California members of the Atlas Network include the Hoover Institution, the Ayn Rand Institute, the Benjamin Rush Institute, the California Policy Center, the Claremont Institute, the Independent Institute, Liberty International, the Pacific Legal Foundation, the Reason Foundation, Seasteading Institute, Smock Media, and Taliesin Nexus.

In the United States, Neoliberal wealthy corporate interests created a national network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists who always hid under the traditional label "conservative." They funded academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia, plus a series of think tanks. The latter include among others The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The Cato Institute (founded as the Charles Koch Foundation in 1974),  the Pacific Research Institute, and The Heartland Institute.  In 1992 they established a network of state-level think tanks across the United States called the State Policy Network which include:
  • Alabama: Alabama Policy Institute
  • Alaska: Alaska Policy Forum
  • Arizona: Goldwater Institute
  • Arkansas: Advance Arkansas Institute, Arkansas Policy Foundation
  • California: California Policy Center, Pacific Research Institute
  • Colorado: Independence Institute
  • Connecticut: Yankee Institute for Public Policy
  • Delaware: Caesar Rodney Institute
  • Florida: Foundation for Government Accountability, James Madison Institute
  • Georgia: Georgia Center for Opportunity, Georgia Public Policy Foundation
  • Hawaii: Grassroot Institute
  • Idaho: Idaho Freedom Foundation
  • Illinois: Illinois Policy Institute
  • Indiana: Indiana Policy Review Foundation
  • Iowa: Public Interest Institute
  • Kansas: Kansas Policy Institute
  • Kentucky: Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions
  • Louisiana: Pelican Institute for Public Policy
  • Maine: Maine Heritage Policy Center
  • Maryland: Calvert Institute for Policy Research, Maryland Public Policy Institute
  • Massachusetts: Pioneer Institute
  • Michigan: Mackinac Center for Public Policy
  • Minnesota: Center of the American Experiment, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota
  • Mississippi: Empower Mississippi, Mississippi Center for Public Policy
  • Missouri: Show-Me Institute
  • Montana: Montana Policy Institute
  • Nebraska: Platte Institute for Economic Research
  • Nevada: Nevada Policy Research Institute
  • New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, Granite Institute
  • New Mexico: Rio Grande Foundation
  • New York: Empire Center for Public Policy
  • North Carolina: John Locke Foundation, John William Pope Civitas Institute
  • Ohio: Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions
  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs
  • Oregon: Cascade Policy Institute
  • Pennsylvania: Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives
  • Rhode Island: Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity
  • South Carolina Palmetto Promise Institute, South Carolina Policy Council
  • South Dakota: Great Plains Public Policy Institute
  • Tennessee: Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Texas: Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Utah: Libertas Institute, Sutherland Institute
  • Vermont: Ethan Allen Institute
  • Virginia: Thomas Jefferson Institute, Virginia Institute for Public Policy
  • Washington: Freedom Foundation, Washington Policy Center
  • West Virginia: Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy
  • Wisconsin: MacIver Institute for Public Policy, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty
  • Wyoming: Wyoming Liberty Group
And yet despite all that activity, sometime in the early-to-mid-1950's the term "neoliberal" disappeared from normal political discourse, except in certain tight circles and among those who study political science instead of celebrity politics.

Let's consider one of these organizations -  The Heartland Institute. I chose it because of these headlines this week:

The late David Padden, a Chicago-based investment banker and one of the original members of the Board of Directors of the Cato Institute, founded The Heartland Institute in 1984.  Padden also served on the original Board of Directors of another organization founded that year, Citizens for a Sound Economy, which later split into two groups, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity. The Cato Institute and both of these organizations received their initial seed money from Koch Industries.

In an interview in 2011 with Heartland’s communications director Jim Lakely we learned:
“We are the only 50-state think tank….We were founded in 1984 to be a think tank that focuses on educating legislators.  That continues to be our core mission, and one that no other think tank can match at our scale.”

Looking back on Heartland’s 27-year history, its communications director says the organization has accomplished quite a lot.

The fact that global warming now consistently ranks very low on the list of concerns for American voters is  “a victory for the organization,” Lakely says.

He also says Heartland was able to capitalize on the rise of the Tea Party shortly after the election of President Obama.

“We distributed more than 75,000 copies of ‘The Patriot’s Tool Box,’ a 10-chapter book that lays out conservative arguments for policy reforms across a variety of issues....The support of the Tea Party groups across the country has been extremely valuable.”
Heartland was among the organizers of the September 2009 Tea Party protest march, the Taxpayer March on Washington. In support of the Tea Party movement, Heartland offered free literature and other assistance to Tea Party activists, created a website "".

In 2012, leaked documents revealed some of the Heartland Institute's initiatives and climate change strategy including a tailored high school curriculum. As reported at the New York Times, the Heartland Institute had help from the Charles G. Koch Foundation to “cast doubt on the scientific finding that fossil fuel emissions endanger the long-term welfare of the planet.”  The Union of Concerned Scientists found that “Nearly 40% of the total funds that the Heartland Institute has received from ExxonMobil since 1998 were specifically designated for climate change projects.”

Also in 2012, the Heartland Institute made a huge mistake which allowed us to see the depth of their corporate financial support. From Wikipedia:
On May 4, 2012, Heartland launched a digital billboard advertising campaign in the Chicago area featuring a photo of Ted Kaczynski, the "Unabomber" whose mail bombs killed three people and injured 23 others, asking the question, “I still believe in global warming, do you?” The Institute planned for the campaign to feature murderer Charles Manson, communist leader Fidel Castro and perhaps Osama bin Laden, asking the same question. The Institute justified the billboards saying "the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

The billboard reportedly "unleashed a social media-fed campaign, including a petition from the advocacy group Forecast the Facts calling on Heartland’s corporate backers to immediately pull their funding,".... Within 24 hours Heartland cancelled the campaign, although its president refused to apologize for it....

Following the ... the controversial billboard campaign, substantial funding was lost as corporate donors, including the General Motors Foundation, sought to dissociate themselves from the Institute. According to the advocacy group Forecast the Facts, Heartland lost more than $825,000, or one third of planned corporate fundraising for the year. The shortfall led to sponsorship of the Institute's May 2012 climate conference by Illinois' coal lobby, the Illinois Coal Association, the Institute's "first publicly acknowledged donations from the coal industry," and the Heritage Foundation. The billboard controversy led to the loss of substantial corporate funding, including telecommunications firm AT&T, financial service firm BB&T, alcoholic beverage company Diageo and about two dozen insurance companies.... Pharmaceutical companies Amgen, Eli Lilly, Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline ended financial support. Heartland's May, 2012 climate conference was smaller than previous years.
The Neoliberal organizations do make mistakes. But fundamentally they keep their heads down, avoid recognition and publicity, and consistently work to win over the long term. And so they do - win.

In 2014  Clark S. Judge, Chairman of the Pacific Research Institute, wrote an article The GOP Establishment, the Tea Party and 2016 in which he concluded with the following sentence: "Creating a reform-establishment alliance and preparing it to win the White House – this is the great political task of the next two years." Of course winning the White House with Donald Trump can be extremely problematic. While many of his appointees are in the Neoliberal camp, he simply is not an ideologue and extremely unreliable.

In California, consistently laboring well-funded Neoliberal organizations have won some significant political fights on issues. Now they are preparing for a long effort to reverse the Counter-Ascendancy California Empirical Egalitarian Progressivism.