12 January 2008

The Mont Pelerin Society

In 1947, 39 scholars, mostly economists, with some historians and philosophers, were invited by Professor Friedrich Hayek to meet at Mont Pelerin, Switzerland, and discuss the state, and possible fate of classical liberalism and to combat the “state ascendancy and Marxist or Keynesian planning [that was] sweeping the globe”.

Invitees included Henry Simons (who would later train Milton Friedman, a future president of the society, at the University of Chicago); the American former-Fabian socialist Walter Lippmann; Viennese Aristotelian Society leader Karl Popper; fellow Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises; Sir John Clapham, a senior official of the Bank of England who from 1940–6 was the president of the British Royal Society; Otto von Habsburg, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne; and Max von Thurn und Taxis, Bavaria-based head of the 400-year-old Venetian Thurn und Taxis family.

When the Mont Pelerin Society first met, in 1947, its political project did not have a name. But it knew where it was going. The society's founder, Friedrich von Hayek, remarked that the battle for ideas would take at least a generation to win, but he knew that his intellectual army would attract powerful backers. Its philosophy, which later came to be known as neoliberalism, accorded with the interests of the ultra-rich, so the ultra-rich would pay for it.

Neoliberalism claims that we are best served by maximum market freedom and minimum intervention by the state. The role of government should be confined to creating and defending markets, protecting private property and defending the realm. All other functions are better discharged by private enterprise, which will be prompted by the profit motive to supply essential services. By this means, enterprise is liberated, rational decisions are made and citizens are freed from the dehumanizing hand of the state.

This, at any rate, is the theory. But as David Harvey proposes in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, wherever the neoliberal program has been implemented, it has caused a massive shift of wealth not just to the top 1%, but to the top tenth of the top 1%. In the US, for instance, the upper 0.1% has already regained the position it held at the beginning of the 1920s. The conditions that neoliberalism demands in order to free human beings from the slavery of the state - minimal taxes, the dismantling of public services and social security, deregulation, the breaking of the unions - just happen to be the conditions required to make the elite even richer, while leaving everyone else to sink or swim. In practice the philosophy developed at Mont Pelerin is little but an elaborate disguise for a wealth grab.

Think Tank Watch
Alternet:Neoliberalism Dismantles Services to Make Elites Even Richer

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