I have read these three books about neoliberalism this year, the year of Brexit and Trump, and much else that is not worth celebrating as 2016 draws to a close. The first, Small Is Beautiful, a gift from my friend Barry Horton, written in the early 1970s, is laced with warnings of what will happen if neoliberal ideology takes hold in politics and economics. Naomi Klein’s book, which was very disturbing, written 35 years later, documents what has resulted from neoliberalism, confirming Schumacher’s predictions. George Monbiot’s book, a collection of his essays over a few years, has very similar messages to Klein’s.
I can better understand now the anger behind a song called “If I had a rocket launcher”, by Bruce Cockburn, someone not particularly known for angry songs.
Cockburn wrote it at a time when there was a lot of bad stuff happening in south and central America, instigated by the CIA, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (the subject of “The Trial of Henry Kissinger”, by Christopher Hitchens, brilliant book), interference with the internal matters of Latin American countries, and the imposition of an economic and political ideology, neoliberalism, that emerged from the Chicago School of Economics, which was embraced deeply in the USA, Reaganomics, and in the UK, Thatcherism. Two shattering political events occurred this year in both countries, the two countries where the neoliberal project bit the deepest. A reaction to something going badly wrong. South and Central American are emerging and recovering from the shock torture that was foisted on them. The International Monetary Fund has been kicked out, and there are no US military bases any longer in South America. They are doing things their way now. The UK is at a dangerous tipping point right now. Most will not realise this, or are too busy, and worried about their immediate futures to care very much about anything, except their immediate needs. Monbiot is writing a sequel, How Do We Get Out Of This Mess?. It is important to look forward, with hope.
Speaking for myself, I am in no mood for celebrating this New Year’s Eve. What works for me, and draws me to hope, is doing something positive, productive, getting politically active. Kicking at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. It has been in so many ways a horrendous year, I need not go into detail and there may well be more terrorist atrocities, in addition to ongoing conflicts and the growing refugee crisis. We have now a global web of disaster capitalism. With climate change and more extreme weather events resulting from global warming, which is the result of fossil fuel extraction and emissions, inaction, deregulation, and privatisation, disaster capitalism becomes self perpetuating. At the top of the mess now a political administration will be inaugurated next month, Trump, a robber baron, is creating an administration of robber barons (who are all climate change deniers) to enable their base to make as much money as possible, for as long as possible, they do not care, their economics and politics do not put people and their environment first. An economic system that requires constant growth, while thwarting and undermining almost all serious attempts at environmental regulation, generates a steady stream of disasters all on its own, whether military, environmental or financial. And a steady stream of unnecessary suffering on massive scales. Climate change is analogous to adding an accelerant to a fire. The current refugee crisis will, in a few decades, pale into insignificance compared to the mass movements of people there will be if dangerous levels of climate change take place. Our common addiction to dirty, non-renewable energy resources keeps other kinds of emergencies coming: natural disasters exacerbated by climate change, and wars waged for control of resources, like oil, which in turn create terrorist blowback. Wahabi inspired jihad funded by Saudi Arabian wealth, wealth accumulated by oil extraction and sale.
God’s Kingdom is built by making bridges and opening hearts and minds, not by closing doors and building walls. Radical changes are needed, politics and economics as if people and the environments they live in actually matter. There are turbulent times ahead, but if we heed the words “seek first the Kingdom of God”, and all that implies (and it is worth exploring what in practical terms Kingdom builders need to do), and act accordingly then change can happen. Political will is a renewable resource. Hoping and praying for 2017 to be a year when turning points towards a kinder future are reached. Brexit will have been worth it if it leads to a socialist government here in the UK.