The article linked below, from The Nation Magazine, by Chloe Maxmin, provides great insight into what she says is “one of the most successful examples of social change in the modern era: the neoliberal coup …(1975 – 2008) … an ideological movement called ‘neoliberalism’ (which) evolved from fringe theory into the dominant economic paradigm of our age”. Maxim then asks “what the climate change movement can learn from the Republicans’ neoliberal coup?” This is a great exercise and I am sure much can be learned, but she seems to leave out some very important differences, all of which are directly related to power and message. These will be very difficult to overcome.
Maxim gives a great background summary. She cites Economist Friedrich Hayek who advocated the “invisible hand of the market” emphasizing the need “to make a decisive break from the state-centric regimes and ideologies of the first half of the 20th century … that individual freedom depended on replacing the state with the market as the means of economic coordination.” It took decades but this neoliberal fringe eventually found the correct circumstances and players to convince the American people to listen and follow. Hayek’s “American protégé Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1974 and 1976 respectively, raising the profile and legitimacy of the neoliberal doctrine that had been developing in the shadows for 30 years … was accepted into the inner circle of policy-oriented economic advisers, and Washington began to turn to his neoliberal frameworks.” Finding the best voice to convince the public was solved with the rise of Ronald Reagan. As stagflation grew during the Carter years the “country (and world) became mesmerized with free market idealism expressed in anti-big government rhetoric, policies, and practices. Reagan’s focus not only produced decades of neoliberal policies in the White House but also birthed a massive ground game to infuse local politics and American culture with neoliberal values.” Today we continue to battle any discussion entertaining a move away from neoliberal ideals. Questioning this has become tantamount to questioning America itself. I just don’t remember anything like this in our constitution.
There were other very important things happening during that same time that Maxim doesn’t really go into for some reason. For over 100 years corporations have and continue to reach for every possible niche of power through the spread of the cancer known as “corporate personhood” gaining an ever stronger hold on our elected officials and the very process of government, at all levels. The Powell Memorandum created a game plan or blueprint for corporations and the wealthy to prioritize and strategize what they are best at. The 50’s and 60’s had been a frustrating time as FDR and the “successes of the New Deal, and later the war effort, persuaded Americans that public institutions could meet shared societal challenges”. Power had to be restored and the neoliberal movement identified the important tools and very good and timely messengers. Wealthy and corporate influence on government is largely a reflection of money and thus the wealthy and corporations created groups like ALEC to maximize their most abundant asset. The climate change movement is on the wrong side of this financial equation, although small gains and occasional victories can and do occur.
One abundantly significant tool in this process was the media, controlling the message, which the neoliberals did not miss. As Maxim noted, “An important step in the neoliberal ascent was clean, clear, compelling messaging that exemplified neoliberal values, garnered support, and could flow through the Republican Party. One word did most of the work: freedom.” And then of course it was obvious that the right message must be manufactured. “Another key component of the mainstream infusion was think tanks—institutions that incubated ideas and policies … (even a) transatlantic network”. Massive efforts at consolidating and monopolizing the means of delivering all messages began and is almost complete today as our media is owned/monopolized by 4 to 5 giant corporations. This makes it very difficult for the climate change movement to influence the American people toward its cause. Regardless of its, moral, scientific or truthful nature, the climate change story / message is just not covered relative to its dire importance.
I fear that without massive infusions of power, message and access to the press, any substantial transformation on the human causes of climate change will simply take too long to be successful. One change that could become a real equalizer, would be to to amend the US Constitution saying once and for all that “corporations are not people and have no rights under the constitution as such”. The organization Move To Amend has proposed just such an amendment (We The People Amendment) and we should all support this and demand that our legislators do as well. Time is ticking on the climate change clock.