For those who may have forgotten, Joe Biden was elected in 2020 to ‘restore’ humane and technically competent governance that would send the nefarious political forces then aligning in the US packing. In fact, the Biden administration has overseen one of the worst failures to govern in modern history. In 2021, Biden’s first year in office, half again more Americans (150%) died from Covid than had under Donald Trump. And an additional 500,000 ‘excess deaths’ brought the total to 1.1 million excess deaths in the US during Biden’s first year in office.
These are end-of-empire numbers. And they represent an unfolding human and political tragedy. Had Donald Trump not produced the existing Covid vaccines under Operation Warp Speed, several million more Americans might have died from Biden’s ineptness. And whereas Republicans appear to see neoliberalism for the grift it is— insider self-dealing posed as adherence to immutable laws of nature, Liberals believe their own bullshit. Quickly, how many excess deaths has the US experienced since the ACA was implemented in 2015? Several million.
In fact, Biden’s— and his Liberal government’s, failure to govern was entirely predictable (see here, here). The problem is capitalism. The immediate point: those looking for salvation in electoral politics are unlikely to find it. The problem in need of a solution isn’t which grim, grey, representative of the oligarchs can best scam the next election. It is to govern in political economy where capital rules. It is the invisibility of power in the Liberal frame that makes Liberalism so misleading. It might work if the form of political economy it exists to support did.
The New Deal was created from the observation that capitalism self-destructs when firms are left to their own devices. The New Deal solution was to not leave firms to their own devices. In contrast, the fundamental premise of neoliberalism is that capitalist enterprises are more efficient than government. This base capitalist ideology— common to both Neoclassical economics and neoliberalism, has it that people are rational, calculating machines who respond deterministically to changes in the prices of goods and services. With few human beings over the age of six or seven gullible enough to believe this drivel (where is the evidence?), neoliberalism is the insider language of the corporate class— lawyers, negotiators, etc., who earn their livings screwing workers and their firm’s customers.
(Homo economicus is explicit in neoclassical economics; but implied in neoliberalism through program parameters. For instance, the market fundamentalist ‘incentives’ in the ACA require that Neoclassical assumptions regarding how people make decisions be true for the incentives to work. However, the assumptions are ideological. Empirically, they do not work as claimed).
To build out this latter point, the Biden administration’s business explainer for his IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) is among the most radically neoliberal documents ever written. According to it, the goal of the IRA is to lower costs for small businesses— the same as the ACA. Why does the president of the US spend his days imagining how to cut costs for ‘American’ businesses? Because they represent the vanguard of American-style capitalist imperialism. From NAFTA to Biden’s IRA (Inflation Reduction Act), ‘American’ business is the juggernaut imagined to propel liberal democracy towards the end of history.
The second-order question is: why is the administration of a Liberal Democrat putting out neoliberal explainers for its policies? Another way to ask this is: why are Washington politicians appealing to the interests of entities that can’t vote? The owners and employees of American businesses can vote for the politicians and policies of their choice in their capacity as citizens (or simply eligible). Granting additional political agency to oligarchs and corporations dilutes the distribution of political power in favor of capital. And the ‘juggernaut’ role of business in the neoliberal imagination is imperialistic.
Question: who gets to decide where costs will be cut in these programs if the distribution of political power in the US is as skewed as the current distribution of economic power? In practical terms, if health insurers, medical device makers, and pharmaceutical companies, set the terms of the ACA— because their representatives wrote it, who will get squeezed in cost-cutting? The (Barack) Obama administration relied on a rationale— that ‘consumer demand’ was driving healthcare costs higher, that had already been debunked when the ACA was still being written.
Since passage of the ACA, health insurer profits have risen. Medical device maker profits have risen. Pharmaceutical industry profits have risen. And health insurance premiums have skyrocketed as 3 – 5 million Americans died due to inadequate healthcare. On the one hand, American Liberals passed sweeping legislation that was intended to at least partially address the inequities of the American healthcare system. On the other hand, the ACA and related programs (IRA) were written and negotiated by rent-seeking corporations whose primary interest is boosting profits by cutting costs.
What does any of this have to do with fascism? The Biden administration launched an imperialist resource war against Russia while sacrificing several million mostly poor Americans of color to the Covid pandemic and the vagaries of the American healthcare system after appointing the former head of Google’s propaganda and political dirty tricks affiliate (Antony Blinken) to shut down political dissent in the US under the improbability that the paid propagandists in the American media have more interest in truth than those who do the dying when Liberal policies implode from their own contradictions.
In the 1960s and 1970s the fashion in the US was to call for annihilating the entire populations of the Soviet Union and China in unprovoked nuclear attacks. This wasn’t a fringe view. American General Curtis (‘Jack Ripper’) LeMay reportedly (and here) had plans for a nuclear ‘first strike.’ To understand the human dimension, in 1950, the combined populations of the Soviet Union and China was 650,000,000 million human beings. It subsequently became known that ‘nuclear winter’ would have ended human life on the planet had the Americans carried out such an attack.
The point is that Liberalism has never been what liberals claim that it is. Economists Milton Freidman and Friedrich Hayek— two founders of neoliberalism through the Mont Pelerin Society, created the economics that inform Liberal public policies. The ‘market fundamentalist’ parts of the ACA are premised in neoliberal dogma— not historical evidence. With the century since the New Deal was implemented to draw from, why do Liberals defer to Right-wing dogma rather than historical evidence to structure their policies?
Question: in what politics might mass, unprovoked, nuclear annihilation seem reasonable? Well, American General Curtis LeMay—Republican, founded the Rand Corporation, the premier liberal institution of the Cold War. What makes an institution founded by a Republican war criminal liberal? The Rand Corporation was fighting the illiberal ideologies of Communism and Fascism, goes the liberal answer. Fearing a return of the Great Depression in the aftermath of WWII, the American state allied with weapons manufacturers to make weapons production central to the American economy. Note: this was not a market outcome.
Within the liberal frame of the New Deal, Federal support for ‘the economy’ is liberal. However, both the Soviet Communists and the German Fascists supported their respective economies, and actively used state power to this end. More broadly, the political outlier was the Soviets, who had a system of state production, with no capitalist class to expropriate public expenditures. The German Fascists and the American Liberals had both, at different times, created state-corporate hybrids that fit the current definition of ‘neoliberal.’ Add back imperialist aggression, and the result in both cases approaches Fascism.
This idea of liberal fascism is improbable through a liberal frame, but not a Marxist one. Missing in the liberal frame is the concentrated economic power that capitalism produces, as well as the hierarchy of social decision making that follows from it. In the US in particular, economic power determines political outcomes. As was the case in fascist Germany in the 1930s – 1940s, the US has a political leadership allied with industrialists who use their proximity to state power to loot the public purse. Public policies in the US are based on the wants of American corporations, not the public interest.
None other than the New York Times is here to help unpack this formulation. According to the Times, state and local Democrats govern to the Right of Republicans when they have the power to do so. When they have a choice between legislating their stated principles or their class interests, liberals choose their class interests, claims the Times. In the realms of housing, education, and taxation, liberals denied housing to the poor to protect their own home values and neighborhood ‘character;’ they exacerbated public school funding crises that punished the poor; and they led Republican states in implementing regressive taxation. Left rhetoric attached to Right-wing politics makes Liberalism a Right-wing ideology.
Question: what makes bourgeois Liberals legislating their class interests, as the New York Times asserts is the case, Right-wing? Well, the outcome of this class politics is that the wealth and power of the already rich is enhanced to the approximate extent that it is diminished for poor and working people. Through the ACA, Liberals placed ordinary citizens in fake competition with health insurers, medical device makers, and pharmaceutical companies. The pre-ordained outcome was that corporate profits were maintained or increased, irrespective of how many citizens died from inadequate healthcare.
Given that most of the ideological and analytical back-and-forth in the US takes place solely within a Liberal frame, the question is why? Why would the American Left use an analytical frame from the neoliberal Right, other than to pose Marxist challenges to the results? This is a practical question. Class analysis has no place in the flat social order of Liberalism because the social fact of class implies that the Liberal social order isn’t flat. This essay from nakedcapitalism.com does a reasonable job in identifying the class dynamics of the PMC (professional-managerial class), alleged in liberal theory to be classless.
So again, why aren’t Marxist analytics being used by the American Left? One obvious answer is that the American Left is a bourgeois endeavor partially imagined by the CIA to pose capitalist imperialism as the free choice of those it has been imposed on. In this context, Marxist analysis is unlikely to be kind to Liberal motives. Recall, Liberals claim to be motivated by political principles. And yet, as the New York Times demonstrated, when given a choice between acting on principles or as ordinary opportunists, opportunism rules the day.
For instance, shortly after Joe Biden entered office in 2021, Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad wrote an essay calling for investigations of Right-wing leaders for their Covid pandemic failures. So far, so good. They then called for prosecutions of these leaders if crimes were found. Again, so far, so good. Joe Biden then managed the worst Covid pandemic outcomes in the rich world, plus another half-million dead from the failures of the healthcare system he is in the process of re-upping (the ACA). If, as Chomsky and Prashad imply, Covid pandemic failures are evidence of Right-wing governance, where does this leave Biden?
And if it isn’t evidence of Right-wing governance, where does it leave Chomsky’s and Prashad’s thesis? In fact, the ACA had been passed and implemented six years before their essay was published, yet the authors demonstrated no apparent knowledge that the program’s central result was several million excess deaths. Readers are welcomed, encouraged even, to debate the methods used in various ‘excess deaths’ calculations. While most Liberals will choke on numbers like 3 – 5 million excess deaths, the method is legitimate. Amongst the PMC, bogus versions of it are still being used to understate Covid deaths in the US.
This gets to a fundamental paradox of Liberalism. By running on principles while governing from class privilege, Liberals legislate against their own stated principles. This problem is structural. Liberal social equity is based on reducing social iniquity. Recall, the ACA was sold as ‘social-justice healthcare.’ People were brought into the health insurance ‘system’ who previously hadn’t had health insurance. The predatory history of the health insurers was claimed to have been regulated away in exchange for free profits from the Federal government. . But how did 3 – 5 million people die with government regulators minding the store?
Here, the New York Times is once again of assistance. While the Liberal / Left press is running headlines claiming that Republicans are trying to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Times has a story of the bi-partisan looting of Medicare that is currently underway. Stunningly, half of Medicare (48%) has already been privatized. Of current relevance is both the Liberal affection for these privatization schemes, as well as the use of mechanisms from the ACA like ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations) to deny healthcare to people who need it.
While tedious, this last point is important. In addition to placing we, the people, into fake competition with large corporations in order to receive healthcare, there are two levels where cost cutting means denying healthcare to people. The first is the health insurer profit motive. Paying for healthcare is a cost to health insurers, meaning that the less healthcare they pay for, the higher their profits will be. The second, ACOs, assumes that insurers don’t have enough power to deny healthcare to people, therefore an additional layer of extraction is needed.
Liberals had a unique opportunity following the debacles of the Great Recession, the Covid pandemic, and the Liberal hissy fit of the Trump Years, to demonstrate that ‘illiberal democracy’ could be fixed. The American people bought the Democrats’ bullshit and elected Joe Biden president. Most of us— including my Republican friends, hoped that Biden would be successful because the stakes are so high. But Biden has been an absolute catastrophe.
Please learn something about Marxist analysis before responding to this piece. Liberalism answers its own questions. It is ideology.