After World War II, the world was ready for a new direction to global politics. The broken windows policy of the intermission between the World Wars obviously hadn’t delivered on its promises, and the world was physically and symbolically destroyed. A robust rebuilding process would take place, and a new globalized politics would emerge. Future historians, if the planet survives for them to exist, may refer to our current international politics as the Bretton Woods era, defined by international watch dogs and globalized financial institutions.
On the global scale, neoliberalism is a center right ideology. In America’s warped politics of asymmetric polarization, it is perceived as a center left ideology because of its advocacy for basic human rights. Its primary goal is to advocate for a liberal democratic international order that is too busy reaping the benefits of free trade to go to war. In essence, peace and stability through elective market capitalism.
The progenitors of neoliberalism are among the most self-assured ideologues in the planet, for reasons both deserved and not. On the one hand, we have averted direct full-scale military confrontation between major powers. On the other, we have destroyed the planets ecosystem and violated the democratic sovereignty we claim to uphold. This is a result of neoliberals thinking that their worldview is the only acceptable one, subverting its own principles. It sees the left as an equal threat to the right, perhaps more so. At least extreme right-wingers are willing to implement austerity and extract fossil fuels. Leftists, on the other hand, do horrible things like raise taxes on billionaires and nationalize industries so that they benefit the population and not international markets.
Thus is the scenario in Brazil. Lula de Silva is likely the most successful President in modern history, and this is undebatable if we narrow the scope of inquiry to the 21st century. In 2002, Brazil received a $30 billion bailout from the IMF to save it from complete financial collapse. Lula was elected in the same year. Not only did Brazil pay back the loan by the time he left office in 2011, Brazil was contributing money to the IMF to the tune of $5 billion. His social democratic platform has no parallel, as he pulled an estimated 29 million people into the Brazilian middle class. In addition to those 29 million, another 20 million were pulled out of absolute poverty. In addition to being the most successful 21st century, completely transforming Brazil’s economy in just 9 years, Lula is the most popular. Pollsters have him in the ballpark of a 90 percent approval rating.
And yet, Lula de Silva is now sitting in jail as Brazil is turned over to a real life, 20th century style fascist. He will sit in a cell for the next 12 years. Why? Because of a politicized scandal investigation, which combined the uncovering of genuine financial fraud with politicized targeting. He wasn’t jailed for committing massive financial fraud or political malfeasance, but instead because allegedly received a modest penthouse from a Brazilian contractor. International capital, who have always disliked Lula because he brought wealth to his own people and didn’t allow for Brazil’s exploitation, cheered on his jailing as a country cleaning up political corruption. These same western institutions are of course fine with American political corruption, where nearly every politician engages in much worse behavior than Lula was allegedly engaged in on a day to day basis.
The neoliberals took it a step further. Not only do they cheer on Lula’s politically motivated 12 years prison sentence, they saw an opportunity to open up Brazil to international markets once again. Jair Bolsonaro, a man who claimed that the reason Brazil’s military dictatorship failed is because the tortured 30,000 people instead of killing them, was their opportunity for reform. Bolsonaro, who makes Donald Trump look like a liberal democrat in comparison, was welcomed with open arms in the United States. In October, he was welcomed with open arms in Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C. He was transparently here to shore up political support, most notably from capital, hoping to cash in on his extraction of the Amazon rainforest, which could quite literally be the death nail in our desperate struggle to save the planet from climate destruction.
It is not particularly difficult to understand why neoliberals prefer Bolsonaro to Lula. Visit the WTO or World Bank website and read about their loan packages. They advance basic center left principles to gain bipartisan support, claiming to support education initiatives and childcare investments. In the next sentence, it is very clear why their programs do not actually lead to these outcomes. They demand austerity and deregulation as a precursor to any loan. Thus, capital is just fine with fascism as long as fascists put in place laissez-faire market reforms. This is why Bolsonaro, who said a female colleague was too ugly to rape and that he would rather his son die in a car accident than be gay, can get a warm reception in the United States. Sure, those are not our values but what is important is your open up your economy. For me, not for thee.
If this sounds familiar, it should. It is the same reason neoliberals have long supported Saudi Arabia, who beheads apostates and does not allow women to appear in public alone. Further, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Yemen civilians are perfectly acceptable collateral for the money we receive from arms deals. It is why we continue doing business with Turkey, even as Erdogan cracks down on his political opponents and murders critical journalists. It is why Rodrigo Duterte can sit next to the President in the White House while his police are murdering drug dealers back home. It is why Marine Le Pen is a prominent figure in French politics and why the libertarian Koch Brothers came around to supporting Donald Trump. It is why we have virtually no chance at saving the planet from climate change.
Capital does not care about secondary or tertiary effects, the only care about the dollars flowing into their bank account at any cost. The same neoliberals who designed a system of sovereignty and democracy have no problem supporting coup attempts anywhere in the world if electoral results do not go the way they want them to. They cannot think long term or strategically, blinded by the profit incentives of right now. Thus they fail to see that they are destroying earth for future generations, and are shocked when throwing the Muammar Gaddafi’s out of power doesn’t lead to better political outcomes. They cannot understand how supporting theocratic and fascistic regimes around the world financially reinforces that behavior and blocks any chance of genuine popular reform. They do not account for the fact that successful left wing movements that pull people out of poverty leads to long-term global economic growth.
This is why people are mad. They see the rich hoarding unprecedented sums of wealthy while the poor barely get by. Steven Pinker and Bill Gates wash their hands clean of any susceptibility in the system because African capitalists extracted oil and timber and now the poorest make $2.50 a day instead of $1.98. They are data driven individuals who do not deny the obvious science of climate change, but are banking their hopes on some miracle technology to save the planet rather than calling on international finance to reform. This is because climate change is seen as a future problem and neoliberals can only think in the present.
The logical reaction to centrist neoliberalism and its failures is left wing and right wing movements offering alternatives. The left’s vision is to make the world more like the Nordic countries, nationalizing those industries that should not have a profit motive (healthcare, oil) and redistributing wealth through the welfare state. The rights vision is to extract resources and open up to financial capital while limiting the flow of migrants and cracking down on domestic crime.
While the left has made some major gains in recent years with notable figures like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, along with a slew of successful labor movements, it is the far right who continues winning elections. The looming retirement of Angela Merkel and deep unpopularity of France’s neoliberal President Emanuel Macron is prompting fears of even more far right victories in some of the world’s most important countries.
The reason the right has been more successful than the left is twofold. First, as made clear above, global capital prefers the far right to the left in virtually any scenario. In Brazil, Fernando Haddad was a very moderate social democrat, probably slightly to the right of Bernie Sanders. Capital took the guy who praised the military dictatorship. Bolsonaro didn’t come to the United States for a vacation, he came to secure funding. Money has a big influence in elections, and the right is always going to be able to outraise the left.
The second reason we see the right actually winning an elections as opposed to simply making a splash like Sanders and Corbyn is because they play hardball. Today’s leftists have a respect for institutions and are obsessive over their image in the media. The communist, and even socialist, label still carries a lot of weight, so leftists are very careful in what they say and how aggressively they play politics. The media is not afraid to speculate on whether a stated social democrat might be a closet communist. On the other hand, the media has an aversion to calling anyone a fascist. Mainstream media refused to do so even as Bolsonaro was suggesting military dictatorships have an upside and cheering on the jailing of his political opponents. This is fascism by the definition of the term, whereas nothing Sanders has ever advocated for has any relation to communism. Concisely, the right is willing to play hardball while the left adopts the institutionalist rhetoric of neoliberals, and the media inadvertently aids one side.
Neoliberalism has failed the planet. It knows the planet is failing, and it thinks neoliberalism can fix it. This is because it cannot accept the fact that it is the cause. Neoliberalism is the objectively correct ideology, how could anyone reject it for the far left or the far right? Neoliberalism has ruined global politics, and we should reject any neoliberal who portends to fix it.