5. März 2009

The Neoliberalism of Barack Obama

While reading about Obama's budget that stresses some interesting and important points like health care for instance (but contains also a further raise in the military spending) I certainly wasn't thinking about class warfare like conservative critics. I rather thought of an article I have read last year before the presidential election. I present you this text by Walter Benn Michaels in the New Left Review in parts because it makes a good point by exposing Obama's and Clinton's neoliberalism and the root of inequality - capitalism - instead of being fooled by progress concerning race and gender camouflaging rising inequality.

After half a century of anti-racism and feminism, the us today is a less equal society than was the racist, sexist society of Jim Crow. Furthermore, virtually all the growth in inequality has taken place since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965—which means not only that the successes of the struggle against discrimination have failed to alleviate inequality, but that they have been compatible with a radical expansion of it. Indeed, they have helped to enable the increasing gulf between rich and poor.
Why? Because it is exploitation, not discrimination, that is the primary producer of inequality today. It is neoliberalism, not racism or sexism (or homophobia or ageism) that creates the inequalities that matter most in American society; racism and sexism are just sorting devices. In fact, one of the great discoveries of neoliberalism is that they are not very efficient sorting devices, economically speaking. (...) even though some capitalists may be racist, sexist and homophobic, capitalism itself is not. This is also why the real (albeit very partial) victories over racism and sexism represented by the Clinton and Obama campaigns are not victories over neoliberalism but victories for neoliberalism: victories for a commitment to justice that has no argument with inequality as long as its beneficiaries are as racially and sexually diverse as its victims. (...) It is the increasing gap between rich and poor that constitutes the inequality, and rearranging the race and gender of those who succeed leaves that gap untouched. In actually existing neoliberalism, blacks and women are still disproportionately represented both in the bottom quintile—too many—and in the top quintile—too few—of American incomes. In the neoliberal utopia that the Obama campaign embodies, blacks would be 13.2 per cent of the (numerous) poor and 13.2 per cent of the (far fewer) rich; women would be 50.3 per cent of both. For neoliberals, what makes this a utopia is that discrimination would play no role in administering the inequality; what makes the utopia neoliberal is that the inequality would remain intact. Worse: it is not just that the inequality remains intact but also—since it is no longer produced by discrimination—that it gets legitimated. (...) Americans still love to talk about the American Dream—as, in fact, do Europeans. But the Dream has never been less of a reality than it is today. Not just because inequality is so high, but also because social mobility is so low (...) But it is not discrimination that has produced the almost unprecedented levels of inequality Americans face today; it is capitalism. (...) the answer to the question, ‘Why do American liberals carry on about racism and sexism when they should be carrying on about capitalism?’, is pretty obvious: they carry on about racism and sexism in order to avoid doing so about capitalism. Either because they genuinely do think that inequality is fine as long as it is not a function of discrimination (in which case, they are neoliberals of the right). Or because they think that fighting against racial and sexual inequality is at least a step in the direction of real equality (in which case, they are neoliberals of the left). Given these options, perhaps the neoliberals of the right are in a stronger position—the economic history of the last thirty years suggests that diversified elites do even better than undiversified ones. But of course, these are not the only possible choices.

via American Leftist
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