The theme of the rise of consumerism over all of our lives is a something I am currently thinking about. And have thought about. Exhibit A – Companies are from Mars and Customers are from Venus.
I find it a difficult moral place to exist in. On the one hand my company SMLXL is all about enabling customers and brands to better engage with eachother. And I consult and work with companies to enable them to be commercially more successful.
But as Tomi and I have gone deeper into the possibilites of the networked world what we see are the possibilites not only of an evolved media and business ecology that redefines communications, media and commerce, but also starts to restructure the possibilites of society. Potentially in a positive way. But its not all black and white.
My thoughts were brought into sharper focus recently. By the publishing of Naomi Kleins book The Shock Doctrine, the thesis of which is that free markets thrive on freedom is a lie. You can read here major thought piece here
Klein points to the disaster capitalism as she describes it, that took place in the aftermath of the New Orleans natural disaster.
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans' school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.
Klein attacks Milton Friedman as the architect of this strategy that has been applied in many countries around the world. In makes me feel uneasy. But it goes right back to 1947, right after the war, which frames the thinking contextually. words by George Monbiot in his piece How the neoliberals stitched up the wealth of nations for themselves
When the Mont Pelerin Society first met, in 1947, its political project did not have a name. But it knew where it was going. The society's founder, Friedrich von Hayek, remarked that the battle for ideas would take at least a generation to win, but he knew that his intellectual army would attract powerful backers. Its philosophy, which later came to be known as neoliberalism, accorded with the interests of the ultra-rich, so the ultra-rich would pay for it.
Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by private enterprise, which will be prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services. By this means, enterprise is liberated, rational decisions are made and citizens are freed from the dehumanising hand of the state.
Her account of the ideological zealotry, stupidity and greed that informed how Iraqi reconstruction was handled is among the most original and revealing in the book. The ambition to have low taxes, minimal regulation, no state, free markets, low tariffs and maximum corporate involvement because they conformed to the free-market blueprint distorted economic priorities and generated huge opportunities for waste and racketeering.
Worse, they involved a scorched-earth policy towards Iraqi institutions that created the vacuum occupied by the sectarian, murderous militias. It was the true denouement of disaster capitalism.
And again this makes me feel uncomfortable. Good old Don Rumsfeld, got a $37m payout when he left Haliburton
But it cannot be one thing or the other. There are times on this blog Tomi and I will push the envelope. Perhaps we need the Kleins of this world? However Huttons view is that...
her delusional, Manichaean world view, privatisation, free markets, private property, consumer freedom, the profit motive and economic freedom are just other terms for corporate self-enrichment, denial of voice, limitation of citizenship, inequality and, sometimes, even torture. The discredited electro-shock psychological treatment of the Fifties, we learn, informed the thought system of the free marketeers; it is guilt by association and assertion rather than proof, a weaknesses of too much of the book.
Nothing good can ever come from globalisation, which is just more capitalism. Democracy, however, is a halcyon world of political and economic co-operation, citizen voice and engagement, with a freely arrived- at assertion of the common interest in which most think along the same lines as, say, Naomi Klein. She and free-market economist Milton Friedman, whom she has in her sights, are mirror images of each other in the absolutist categories in which they think.