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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Dean Baker Chat Rescheduled

Unfortunately, economist Dean Baker was forced to cancel his scheduled chat at Art of the Possible a couple of weeks ago because of a family emergency. The good news is, it's been rescheduled for this Monday, August 18. Baker, author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Get Rich and Stay Richer, and owner of Beat the Press blog, will be our guest from 7-8 PM, EST (6-7 PM Central). You can register now, and show up for the chat Monday, at this link.

The general theme at The Art of the Possible is a liberal-libertarian coalition -- or at least Entente -- against the authoritarianism of the contemporary GOP. One of the central themes in Baker's work, like mine, is the hypocrisy of most of the "free market" rhetoric coming from corporate apologists, and the large corporation as welfare case. That is a vitally important meme, from the standpoint of any liberal-libertarian project, serving as a basis for common action against the corporate state. And Baker is perhaps the single most prominent promoter of that meme in the American press. Once again, I quote from the Introduction to his book:

Political debates in the United States are routinely framed as a battle between conservatives who favor market outcomes, whatever they may be, against liberals who prefer government intervention to ensure that families have decent standards-of-living. This description of the two poles is inaccurate….

It is not surprising that conservatives would fashion their agenda in a way that makes it more palatable to the bulk of the population, most of whom are not wealthy and therefore do not benefit from policies that distribute income upward. However, it is surprising that so many liberals and progressives, who oppose conservative policies, eagerly accept the conservatives’ framing of the national debate over economic and social policy. This is comparable to playing a football game where one side gets to determine the defense that the other side will play. This would be a huge advantage in a football game, and it is a huge advantage in politics. As long as liberals allow conservatives to write the script from which liberals argue, they will be at a major disadvantage in policy debates and politics.

The conservative framing of issues is so deeply embedded that it has been widely accepted by ostensibly neutral actors, such as policy professionals or the news media that report on national politics. For example, news reports routinely refer to bilateral trade agreements, such as NAFTA or CAFTA, as “free trade” agreements. This is in spite of the fact that one of the main purposes of these agreements is to increase patent protection in developing countries, effectively increasing the length and force of government-imposed monopolies. Whether or not increasing patent protection is desirable policy, it clearly is not “free trade.”

It is clever policy for proponents of these agreements to label them as “free trade” agreements…, but that is not an excuse for neutral commentators to accept this definition….

Unfortunately, the state of the current debate on economic policy is even worse from the standpoint of progressives. Not only have the conservatives been successful in getting the media and the experts to accept their framing and language, they have been largely successful in getting their liberal opponents to accept this framing and language, as well. In the case of trade policy, opponents of NAFTA-type trade deals usually have to explain how they would ordinarily support “free trade,” but not this particular deal. Virtually no one in the public debate stands up and says that these trade deals have nothing to do with free trade….