The Disaster of Utopian Engineering

History is replete with disastrous utopians — the Jacobins, the Marxists, the fascists and now, in our own age, the globalists, or neoliberal imperialists.

By Chris Hedges and cross-posted from truthdig.

This column is drawn from notes that Chris Hedges wrote in preparing for a debate held today by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. Hedges, speaking from Princeton, N.J., argued for the motion: “Be it resolved, politics isn’t working as usual. It’s time for a revolution.” Opposed was David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times who spoke from Washington, D.C. A podcast of the contest will be available later.

Karl Popper in “The Open Society and Its Enemies” warned against utopian engineering, massive social transformations led by those who believe they found a revealed truth. These utopian engineers carry out the wholesale destruction of systems, institutions and social and cultural structures in a vain effort to achieve their vision. In the process, they dismantle the self-correcting mechanisms of incremental and piecemeal reform that are impediments to that vision. History is replete with disastrous utopians — the Jacobins, the Marxists, the fascists and now, in our own age, the globalists, or neoliberal imperialists.

The ideology of neoliberalism, which makes no economic sense and requires a willful ignorance of social and economic history, is the latest iteration of utopian projects. It posits that human society achieves its apex when individual entrepreneurial actions are free from government constraints. Society and culture should be dictated by the primacy of property rights, open trade — which sends manufacturing jobs to sweatshops in China and the global south and permits the flow of money across borders — and unfettered global markets. Labor and product markets should be deregulated and freed from government oversight. Global financiers should be given control of the economies of nation-states. The role of the state should be reduced to ensuring the quality and integrity of money, along with internal and external security, and to privatizing control of land, water, public utilities, education and government services such as intelligence and often the military, prisons, health care and the management of natural resources. Neoliberalism turns capitalism into a religious idol.

This utopian vision of the market, of course, bears no relationship to its reality. Capitalists hate free markets. They seek to control markets through mergers and acquisitions, buying out the competition. They saturate the culture with advertising to manipulate public tastes and consumption. They engage in price fixing. They build unassailable monopolies. They carry out schemes, without checks or oversight, of wild speculation, predation, fraud and theft. They enrich themselves through stock buybacks, Ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset stripping and the imposition of crippling debt peonage on the public. In the United States, they saturate the electoral process with money, buying the allegiance of elected officials from the two ruling parties to legislate tax boycotts, demolish regulations and further consolidate their wealth and power

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