Market-Driven Hysteria and the Politics of Death

Published on, by Henry A. Giroux, Nov. 6, 2009.

… But in the truncated notion of freedom espoused by the right-wing extremists of a market-driven society, democracy is a deficit, if not pathology, and freedom is reduced to the narrow logic of an almost rabid focus on self-interest. This is a truncated version of freedom, defined largely as freedom from constraint – a freedom which, when not properly exercised or balanced, loses its connection to those obligations that tie people to values, issues and institutions that affirm “the existence of a common good or a public purpose.”[2] This type of depoliticizing inward thinking with its disavowal of the obligations of social responsibility and its outright disdain for those who are disadvantaged by virtue of being poor, young or elderly does more than fuel the harsh, militarized and hyper-masculine logic of reality television and extreme sports; it also elevates death over life, selfishness over compassion and economics over politics. But more so, it produces a kind of dysfunctional silence in the culture in the face of massive hardship and suffering. 

There is more than moral indifference and political cynicism at work here; there is also culture for which there is not much room for ideals, a culture that now considers public welfare a pathology, and responsibility solely a privatized and individual matter. This is a politics of disinvestment in public life, democracy and the common good. Hence, it is not surprising that we hear nothing from the faux populists Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, and other cheerleaders for an unchecked capitalism about a market-driven landscape filled with desolate communities, gutted public services and weakened labor unions. Nor do they say anything about a free-market system that in its greed, cruelty, corruption and iniquitous power relations creates the conditions responsible for 40 million impoverished people (many living in their cars or the ever-growing tent cities), and 46 million Americans without health insurance – one result of which, according to a Harvard University study, is the needless deaths of 45,000 people every year.[3] Nor do they register any alarm over a system that, according to a recent study released by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, claims that “lack of adequate health care may have contributed to the deaths of some 17,000 US children over the past two decades.”[4] What do they have to say about a deregulated market system with its corrupt financial institutions shipping jobs abroad, swindling people out of their homes and gutting the manufacturing base of US industry? What do they have to say about a political system largely controlled by corporate lobbyists? Or insurance companies that pay employees bonuses when they maintain a high level of rejections for procedures that can save people’s lives. Not much. All they see amid this growing landscape of human suffering and despair is the specter of socialism, which amounts to any government-sponsored program designed to offer collective insurance in the face of misfortune and promote the public good.

For right-wing extremists, a market-driven society represents more than a tirade against “big government”; it constitutes a new kind of politics that privileges exchange values and quick profits over all noncommodified values, resists all forms of government intervention (except when it benefits the rich and powerful or uses force to maintain social order), celebrates excessive individualism and consolidates the power of the rich along with powerful corporations – currently coded as mammoth financial institutions such as the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and big banks. Moreover, the ability of this previously devalued market-driven system to endlessly come back to life is truly astonishing. How can the Dick Armey’s of the world be featured in The New York Times as if their ideology and ruthlessness is worthy of a major news story? How is it that an endless number of ex- and current politicians, who are wedded at the hip to corporate interests, can be taken seriously as spokespersons for the larger public? And as the fog of social and historical amnesia rolls over the media and the country in general, it does so in spite of the current financial crisis, the debacle following Hurricane Katrina and the in-your-face payout of big bonuses by institutions that were bailed out by the government. Clearly, market fundamentalism is alive and well in the United States, suggesting that it also works hard through the related modalities of education and seduction to induce the public to conform to the narrow dictates, values and dreams of totalizing market society, regardless of how disruptive it is of their lives. Shouting against the evils of big government does little to register or make visible the power of big corporations or a government that serves corporate rather than democratic needs … (full long text).

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