Are we all ultraliberals?

I take this brief statement by Juan Goytisolo (a Spanish poet, essayist, and novelist, born 6 January 1931, in Barcelona and currently living in a voluntary self-exile in Marrakech) from Le Monde Diplomatique of Mars, 1994.  I find it in my journal of that year, but it could, I think, have been written yesterday, or even today.

Goytisolo draws a parallel between the belief of the Bolsheviks in a better future for all of humanity and that of the “ultraliberals”, the deregulators, who would create a society of consumption [with a similar belief in a better future for all?], Goytisolo being of the opinion that the ultraliberals will fail, just as the Bolsheviks before them.

Le parallèle entre ce qui se passe aujourd’hui dans les pays dominés par l’ultralibéralisme et la pression idéologique de naguère sur les cobayes du ‘socialisme réel’ est trop criant pour qu’on ne s’y arrête pas.  Les méthodes employées pour obtenir l’adhésion des peuples russe, chinois, vietnamien ou cubain—pour ne parler que de ceux où le communisme n’a pas été imposé de l’extérieur et par la force—n’étaient pas uniquement fondées—du moins au début—sur la terreur et la brutalité.  Des dizaines de millions de personnes ont accepté de bon gré la notion de dictature du prolétariat, incarnée par un chef unique et absolu.  Elles ont enduré toutes sortes de misères et de privations pour le plus grand bonheur des générations futures.…  Les conditions réelles dans lesquelles vivaient ces personnes étaient à des années-lumière du paradis annoncé, de cet avenir radieux où toutes les contradictions seraient abolies, où l’Etat deviendrait non nécessaire et où l’être humain disposerait librement de sa force de travail pour épanouir sans limites sa propre créativité.…  Nous savons à présent que ces générations se sacrifièrent pour rien.…
Avec la même certitude, les héritiers de l’ultralibéralisme, de la mondialisation et du marché global nous annocent aujourd’hui la fin de nos malheurs par la rigoureuse application de leur thérapeutique:  multiplication infinie des biens de consommation, modernisation et plus grande fluidité des circuits de distribution de richesses grâce aux possibilitiés créatrices du pouvoir financier, technologique et industriel des élites transnationales débarrassées des ‘entraves du protectionnisme’, du coût ‘insupportable’ des programmes d’aide sociale, des lois ‘retrogrades’ sur la sécurité de l’emploi.…  Pour créer de nouveaux emplois, nous disent-ils, il faut assouplir l’actuelle régulation du travail, favoriser la compétitivité de l’industrie nationale, renforcer la liberté de licencier, se résigner aux délocalisations et, enfin, se féliciter du libre flux des capitaux.

These words were written nearly 20 years ago, and the situation today, other than the fact that the communist dream is now even further buried in history’s dustbin is pretty much the same as then. The “ultraliberals” and globalists of today are saying much the same thing they said then: —that consuming is still the greatest driving force behind the creation of new businesses and new jobs, that goods and ideas, money and technology, ought to be permitted to move freely across national borders, and finally that the needs of the poor might best be met by better satisfying, yes, the consuming “needs” of the middle and upper classes, and that to this end the entitlements making up the welfare state, ought to be reduced, that they not by tying down larger and larger amounts of the world’s wealth impede the free flow of capital, that which is the hallmark of the ultraliberal society.

We’re told that consumption drives 70% of our economy. (What drives the other 30%?) What’s wrong with consumption driving 100% of the world’s economy? Isn’t consumption really just exchanges between people, now mostly in the form of money being exchanged for goods, goods that people don’t have but want if not need? And hasn’t this always been true of human societies? Isn’t consumption, or that which is really the effort to acquire goods by exchange, been what most occupies the lives of all of us?

Certainly this is true of the poorest societies where people are doing nothing but hunting or gathering. Why are they doing that, other than to find or acquire something of value they don’t have, something which they may then use themselves, or go on to exchange for something else they want but don’t have?

In fact, it may be that our troubles begin when we seek to impose an ideology on the people such as socialism, or capitalism, and when we ignore their real needs and wants. In fact we ought to accept that the bottom line is not an ideology, but buying and selling, consumption, or enabling people to freely acquire, by their own efforts, whatever goods and services they consider important to their own lives.

And if there is a place for government, for the welfare state, it may be helping to make those goods and services, including health care and education, more readily available. But so far it seems that not government but the people themselves are better able to do this.

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