The question is how we react to this great prejudice against women. The rule of law and social activism certainly are crucial. But no matter how...”
The ‘politics of envy’ is a cliche of Thatcherite ‘meritocratic’ ideology. Mrs Thatcher, in a 1975 speech debunking the post-war consensus, attributed a saying to the Mid-West: “Don’t cut down the tall poppies. Let them rather grow tall.” If this doesn’t sound very much like a Mid-West homily, it is because it is derived from Herodotus. But the idea that this encompasses a folksy wisdom, a ‘common sense’ if you will, is important to Thatcherite and neoliberal ideology. It means, don’t cut down those who excel out of envy; encourage them, fertilise them, let them excel all the more. The idea is that people who succeed in markets deserve their success: their success is ‘meritocratic’. In this, she was not innovating: she merely gave fresh expression to an old conservative trope, present in Nietzsche as much as Rand. But its staying power as a free market fable is acc0unted for by its political uses.
The more sophisticated ideologists of neoliberalism, such as Hayek, recognised the danger in attributing merit to market outcomes: it was a thinly veiled social Darwinism that distorted the real justification for free markets, that being their superior productive capacity. But reactionaries like Thatcher understood that people do care about social justice, and are not enthralled by GDP figures. She thus took the logical step of binding the argument for free markets to a mawkish, simplistic morality fable, in which egalitarianism is a conspiracy against excellence. And to this day, Tory ideologues such as Jenkins, when in need of a quick social justice fix,alight on the old chestnut about the ‘politics of envy’.
Adolph Reed in the Village Voice, 1998
In appointing LA Police Chief William Bratton to investigate UCPD police brutality and Berkeley law school’s Dean Christopher Edley to “to lead an examination of police policies in handling student protests at all 10 UC campuses” (LA Times), Mark Yudof travesties the independent thought and autonomy that students and faculty are now calling for. Bratton has made his career as an advocate of less physically violent police tactics that control and diminish public space in precisely neoliberal terms. The last thing the UC system needs right now is advice on how to make UCPD even more like a contemporary municipal police force. Similarly, Dean Christopher Edley is one of Yudof’s closest companions, best known for his end-run against the expansion of online classes in the face of faculty governance policies. A commission run by Edley is the opposite of an independent commission. Everyone who signed the petitions of outrage against the police violence at Davis and Berkeley ought to mobilize against this. (I hope the owners of the petitions can use any emails attached to the petition process to re-contact literally everybody.)
There is one thing that is good about Yudof’s move: it makes in the most public of circumstances the same move that he has made throughout his career as a privatizer of public goods. Yudof has done to the UC at every level and in detail the same thing he is doing now: passing off as reform what is actually vulgar cronyism on behalf of the 1%. Now this will be visible to everybody, even far outside the UC — if we make it so.
The unequal distribution of global wealth by individuals (not countries) should give us pause. Even the Wall Street Journal is impressed:
Here’s another stat that the Occupy Wall Streeters can hoist on their placards: The world’s millionaires and billionaires now control 38.5% of the world’s wealth.
How do we know? Because Credit Suisse has just published the second edition of its Global Wealth Report, in which they calculate the distribution of the world’s total wealth.
As readers can see above, the figures for mid-2011 indicate that 29.7 million adults, about 1/2 of one percent of the world’s population, own more than one third of global household wealth. Of this group, they estimate that 85,000 individuals are worth more than $50 million, 29,000 are worth more than $100 million, and 2,700 have assets above $500 million. Compare this to the bottom of the pyramid: 3.054 billion people, 67.6 percent of the world’s population, with assets of less than $10,000, who own a mere 3.3 percent of the world’s wealth. Add another billion people with assets between $10,000 and $100,000 and we have 91.2 percent of the world’s population that owns something on the order of 17.8 percent of total world wealth.
Clearly, global capitalism has enriched a tiny minority while leaving the vast majority at the bottom of the global wealth pyramid.
“The age of cheap food is over,” predicts Knuckman, noting that this can’t be such a bad thing for US citizens. “Most Americans eat too much, anyway.”
For his fellow Americans, who spend 13 percent of their disposable income on food, the price hike may be an annoyance. But for the world’s poor, who are forced to spend 70 percent of their meager budgets on food, it’s life-threatening.
So capitalism is looting the public sphere. Services that citizens have for a hundred or more years considered to be public goods and not to be exploited for the profit of a few – health care, care of the elderly, education, unemployment benefit, old-age pensions, fresh water, sewers, waste disposal, roads and footpaths, urban and rural planning, the postal service, the telephone service, the police, and so on – are subject to systematic and sustained pressure aimed at breaking the link between the citizen and the service. No longer should we think of these things as ‘ours’, except in the sense that we can say a bank is ours. These things are provided to us as goods and services by companies which exercise their right to make a profit out of them – out of us really, out of our pain, our parent’s old age, our children’s childhood, our money troubles, our environment. Citizens are to be redefined as consumers of services. The sole function of the state is to regulate the activities of companies so that monopolies do not develop.
The police function as the guarantor of profit. The police are ‘ours’ only in the way the taxman is ours. The police thus find themselves increasingly (for it was ever thus) with their backs to the corporate wall facing a disinherited citizenry for whom the state is a hostile force. This makes the police political for it is a mistake to think that the looting of the public sphere by corporations and individuals is not political. Of course, nobody on the corporation side wants to call it that. They want it to be understood as common sense. The state is ‘broken’, they say, or it has ‘failed’. Only profit-making companies can do the job efficiently and give good value for money to the consumer. What they really mean is ‘We’re going to take the money and run’. When you’re down and out, feeling low, check your credit rating.