Free trade, private property, and limited government – these policies might seem well-intentioned and even benign. But when a couple of colluding, power-tripping, wealthy blockheads packaged them into a political system that would become known as neoliberalism, it was like putting capitalist exploitation on steroids. Pollution and other environmental problems? Just a minor cost of doing business. Inequality and lack of opportunities for workers? Just wait for all the surplus to trickle down from the upper crust. Concerned about government overreach? Just hand over operations to Halliburton, Philip Morris, and all the other “trustworthy” corporations. Sheesh! It’s time for something entirely different to replace neoliberalism – maybe “paleoprogressivism?” Calling all wordsmiths! For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Jason Bradford

I’m Jason Bradford.

Asher Miller

I’m Asher Miller.

Rob Dietz

And I’m Rob Dietz. Welcome to Crazy Town, where I think that I shall never see a thing as lovely as a global free trade agreement that maximizes profits for corporate overlords. Hey, this is Rob. I’m filling in this week for our producer Melody Travers. In this season of Crazy Town, Jason, Asher and I are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about the rise of neoliberalism and its outsized influence on politics, economics, and how we view the world. The watershed moment took place in 1971. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 326 parts per million, and the global human population was 3.78 billion.

Asher Miller

Hey guys, how are you doing today? Rob? Jason?

Rob Dietz

Pretty good. Pretty good.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, not too shabby. You know, it’s sunny outside right now. It helps.

Asher Miller

You know your neighbors, right. Pretty well.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Some more than others. But yeah, sure, sure.

Rob Dietz

I’m friends with some neighbors.

Asher Miller

Well I was talking to Jason, here we are at his farm. You got neighbors not too far away. Right?

Jason Bradford

No, no, no. It’s kind of like a little cluster of homes and then the farms around fields around them. Yeah.

Asher Miller

Yeah, right. So I mean, have you ever like gone and asked your neighbor for a favor? Like borrowed some sugar or something?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, yeah. Tools, usually, you know. When I was a kid we would often like run out of ingredients to make cookies and I would go get some butter, half a cup of sugar or something.

Asher Miller

Did you happen to ask any of your neighbors like just off the top of your head if they would help you complete the transformation of the entire global economy turn into nightmarish hellscape that is our current socioeconomic political system.

Jason Bradford

It hasn’t come up yet, but maybe we can have a meeting about it.

Rob Dietz

I borrowed Netflix from a neighbor. Does that count as a nightmarish hellscape?

Jason Bradford

Shhh.. don’t tell –

Asher Miller

You guys are losers. I’m sorry. Look, some people may think it’s a nice kind, neighborly thing to borrow and lend each other things. If you’re not colluding to take over the global world order –

Jason Bradford

You have powerful neighbors. That’s a powerhood.

Rob Dietz

I’m a little stung here. Here we’re supposed to be co-hosting this show with him and he thinks we’re losers.

Asher Miller

Well, I haven’t done this either. But I want to tell you about two neighbors from Richmond, Virginia, who did actually exactly what I was just talking about.

Jason Bradford

Okay.

Asher Miller

So one of them, his name is Eugene Sydnor, Jr. I could mispronouncing his last name, but…

Rob Dietz

We’ll go with it. Sydnor. That sounds alright.

Jason Bradford

I like that.

Asher Miller

The other guy is Lewis F. Powell Jr. So both juniors. Which, you know, I’m wondering if there’s something there we need to – Look a little side eyed at the juniors out there. No offense, Junior listeners,

Rob Dietz

I think you meant definitely to offer offense with that!

Asher Miller

Well, I’m gonna extrapolate from just these two guys and say that all juniors, when you bring them together, bad things happen. Okay? Well, so Powell was a successful lawyer. He’d been president of the American Bar Association. Not just as a successful lawyer, but pretty powerful and influential.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, head honcho.

Asher Miller

Just a few years before the watershed moment we’re going to be talking about, he actually very soon after what we’re going to be discussing today, he joined the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s nominated by Richard Nixon, joined the U.S. Supreme Court. Yeah, now his neighbor is no slouch. Okay? Eugene. I’m gonna call him Gene.

Jason Bradford

Okay.

Asher Miller

He probably would hate that, but fuck him. He was a successful businessman. He had served in the Virginia legislature as a Democrat. And he was at the time was serving as the Education Director for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Jason Bradford

Okay, yep.

Asher Miller

Now, you guys know the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, right?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, most mid-sized, or even some small towns even still have then.

Asher Miller

Right. Local Chambers of Commerce you’re talking about.

Rob Dietz

I never really knew what it was. I mean, I think of the chamber, it’s like a Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets or something like that?

Asher Miller

You’re thinking about chamber pots?

Rob Dietz

Well, maybe but . . .

Jason Bradford

They advocate for local business issues maybe or stuff like that.

Asher Miller

So the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was like a national organization, right. So here we are. It’s 1971.

Rob Dietz

Ah, it’s a great year.

Jason Bradford

Music had some hits.

Asher Miller

Yes. I think that the number one song at the time was a Bee Gees love song ballad, you know. “How can you Mend a Broken Heart.” I think that was the song.

Jason Bradford

Best falsetto group of all time.

Rob Dietz

Where are you going with this watershed moment?

Asher Miller

Yeah, this is a love story, actually. No. So August 23, 1971.

Jason Bradford

Okay. Long hot summer.

Asher Miller

So what you’ve got to imagine is, you know, one neighbor goes in his backyard, leans over the fence, the other guy’s like mowing the lawn or something that’s like. “Hey, hey, come here. I’ve got you got to ask you a question. Will you help me try to figure out how to completely transform the U.S. economy?” That’s probably not how it happened. Actually August 23, 1971 was the day that our buddy Lewis Powell turned over a confidential memo that he had drafted.

Asher Miller

Oh, for Gene?

Asher Miller

Gene had asked him, “Hey, would you help write a memo that I can share with the president of the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with some ideas?” They probably had been talking shop for a while.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, yeah sure.

Asher Miller

“Can you write this up?”

Rob Dietz

This is so inspiring. I want to write a confidential memo that 50 years from now is going to be talked about on whatever podcasts become 50 years from now.

Asher Miller

So he turns this over. It’s called “The Attack on American Free Enterprise System,” but it’s much better known as the Powell memo, okay? I think for obvious reasons. Now, some of our listeners may have heard of the Powell memo. In certain circles it’s become sort of infamous as an influential document. It’s sort of this conspiratorial sort of master plan. But what it did do is lay out a roadmap. The roadmap for what would become the neoliberal world order. And it think it’s easy to say that neoliberalism has come to dominate our economic system, or domestic politics, geopolitics, has had this huge influence on the role of government, even if most people aren’t actually familiar with the term neoliberalism.

Rob Dietz

Well, this is a good time to maybe take a little pause, a little station break, and see if we can figure out a little something more about that word, neoliberalism. What are we talking about?

Jason Bradford

Well, I can get into this a little bit.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, you are –

Asher Miller

You are a neoliberal.

Rob Dietz

You’re one of the most neoliberalist-looking mofos that I know.

Asher Miller

You’re gonna pull out your neoliberal card from your wallet.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Association for Neoliberal Douchebags. Okay, so various people will define it slightly differently, but here’s a good one, I think, from David Harvey, who wrote “A Brief History of Neoliberalism.”

Rob Dietz

I mean, pretty obvious. It seems like a good source out there.

Jason Bradford

Okay, Neoliberalism, is a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human wellbeing can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. Now, the role of the state is to create and preserve the institutional framework appropriate to such practices. It must set up those military defense, police, and legal structures and functions required to secure private property rights and to guarantee by force if need be the proper functioning of markets.

Rob Dietz

Damnit, you’re gonna buy that whether you like it or not.

Asher Miller

By force.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So you know, the role of the state is kind of like a police state to enforce private property rights. Furthermore, if markets do not exist in areas such as land, water, education, health care, security, environmental pollution, then they must be created by a state action if necessary. But beyond these tasks, the state should not venture. So boy, privatized, privatized, privatized and use the state to enforce privatization.

Asher Miller

Right. Yeah. Thanks for that definition. I think, you know, there’s so many terms that get bandied around and it gets confusing, right. People don’t know what what  is neoliberalism versus liberalism. And does neoliberalism mean that that we’re talking about liberals here? Right. So there’s too much liberal use of the word liberal.

Rob Dietz

Oh wow, I see what you did there.

Asher Miller

Yeah. Now, I will say that neoliberalism didn’t actually originate with the Powell memo.

Jason Bradford

Right. It kind of gave it a shot. Like he kind of galvanized it.

Asher Miller

Yeah. We’ll talk about why the Powell memo was so influential and why we picked it, but just you know, in terms of context of neoliberalism itself. So as we just were talking about, there have been different uses of the term, different meanings going back to the 19th century. But it wasn’t really used commonly until the 1980s. And it was actually really used by critics primarily. But sort of the core tenants of neoliberalism, even if they weren’t using that term –  I should go back I think to this other seminal moment that happened in Paris in 1938.

Jason Bradford

Okay, that sounds like a great time to be there. Before it got invaded.

Asher Miller

So let me tell you about the Walter Lippmann Colloquium. It sounds just fascinating, stimulating, you want to be there, right?

Rob Dietz

Anytime I can get into a colloquium.

Jason Bradford

With a Lippmann, yeah.

Asher Miller

It brought together 26 intellectuals. I want to put that in quotes. Including Austrian economists, Frederick Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

Jaon Bradford

Oh yeah, still famous today.

Asher Miller

They are actually. Hayek in particular, I think is quite influential still to this day by a lot of folks. And with that bent, I guess, you could say, and I’m just gonna give you a chance because I know sometimes we quiz each other and we have like hard quizzes and sort of fail. I’m going to give you a pretty easy quiz. How many women do you think were there in the 26?

Jason Bradford

Maybe Ayn Rand? But she was born then?

Asher Miller

I don’t know. She might have been born. But yeah.

Rob Dietz

I’m gonna actually try. I’m going to go with zero.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. People of color? Maybe someone was beet red.

Rob Dietz

There was an angry man there.

Jason Bradford

No, they spent too much time on the beaches in Spain before traveling or something like that.

Rob Dietz

Does that count? Or they were delivering some overly impassioned speech, frothing at the mouth, something like that.

Asher Miller

So yeah. It was just a bunch of white guys, a lot of Europeans, some Americans, but yeah. So the purpose when they got they got together there in Paris – keep in mind the year because we’re going to come back to that, 1938 – was to construct a new liberalism to counter what they saw were dangerous threats coming from Keynesian economics on the one hand. And we’ll talk maybe a little bit about that later. And on the other hand, communism, right? Socialism and communism, which obviously was seen as a major threat.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I mean, right. Of course communism was clearly seen as a threat, and Europe is rising. Especially like Keynes and Keynesian economics were a real boogeyman to these guys because that had been a success within the their own sort of Western democracies, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. You talk about Hayek as being sort of a hero economist in this neoliberal world. Well, John Maynard Keynes was like the hero economist in the sort of New Deal politics world.

Jason Bradford

Right, exactly. The New Deal was influenced quite a bit. The FDR administration adopted a lot of these proposals in viewing the role of government in the economy as one of sort of damping down on these business cycles. Providing credit, providing a place for employment to occur, concerned about unemployment rates.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, like once the economy starts slowing down it’s like the federal government just pumps a bunch of money in and then unemployment goes away.

Asher Miller

Well and again, keep in mind, this is 1938. World War II is on the horizon, but not known yet, although there’s lots of strings going on. But really, what people were reacting to was the Great Depression. And in particular, for these guys, it was the response of the U.S. government in particular, to the Great Depression by initiating the New Deal.

Jason Bradford

And setting up all these programs like  Social Security. That may have came later, but . . .

Asher Miller

Employing people by the millions.

Rob Dietz

And all of those policies were meant to avoid that terrible state of depression, of unemployment, and these downturns. And when these guys came along, they called it neoliberalism to differentiate it from the liberalism that kind of created the conditions where you could have a depression.

Jason Bradford

I mean, yeah, because part of the problem is that there was so much free market tearing going on without enough government intervention that there wasn’t a state big enough to enforce these private property laws, you know, trademarks or patents. Or you didn’t have a big enough court system. You didn’t have a big enough police state to go after these sort of white collar crimes, you know. You could have unregulated businesses that gave a bad reputation that then undermine other businesses. So they wanted enough regulation, I think, to create the ability for the private market to really step in and take over.

Rob Dietz

It’s pretty wild though that the Neo,  that prefix, is used to say, Yeah, we’re gonna give the state power again. But only the power to make us more powerful, us corporations and politicians who believe in sort of corporatocracy.

Asher Miller

Yeah, so they that really explains the Neo piece of it, right? They  weren’t talking about laissez faire liberalism where it’s like a free for all.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, maybe we should get into, what’s called the political compass a little bit. You may have seen charts of this. People may have seen charts of this because people have left or right. And the political compass was actually developed in 2001 to really differentiate between different forms of left and right, let’s say. Or it has a spectrum. So you can think of the spectrum that’s normally the social spectrum between authoritarianism and libertarianism in a social regard.

Asher Miller

Those being at odds?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So authoritarian leanings might be, you know, like, hyper religious folks that really want their way or no way.

Jason Bradford

The Taliban.

Jason Bradford

Like the Taliban, right. Yeah. Whereas social libertarians would be very accepting of say, you can wear whatever you want, you can believe whatever you want and listen whatever music you want. We want the government to stay out of your affairs, your private, free thinking individually, whatever you want in your bedroom. Don’t care about that stuff. So that’s the social dimension. And then on the political economy dimension, there are those who want the free market, so to speak. Or private ownership to dictate most of the economic affairs. Versus those who would like the state to intervene quite a bit, and the state be spending money and determining what jobs and what priorities there are, right?

Asher Miller

And the extreme end of that is communism, that there is no private enterprise at all. It’s all state.

Jason Bradford

Oh, right. And so if you put the political compass on neoliberalism, it would be, you know, the state should be big enough to enforce these private property rights. So there’s some state in there, but it’s not huge. And then there’s very little state intervention in economic affairs. So they would be on the political compass in sort of this right lower quadrant, okay? Where the upper quadrant is authoritarianism, the lower is libertarianism, the right is sort of free market economics, the left is state economics. So these guys are kind of in the lower right quadrant. And what’s interesting is almost all political figures that we think about or elect are upper right. So they tend to be lower state intervention, they’ve bought into free market, but they’re more socially authoritarianism. They use social issues as wedge issues often to get elected. So you think about people that we think of as more left progressive, but they will use social issues as wedge issues. And then so will people on the right. So you find on the political spectrum, you know, a lot of the Democrats in the U.S. as well as the Republicans are upper right quadrant.

Asher Miller

Well, whether they’re using them cynically as wedge issues, or they believe them, what you’re saying is that they intervene on some level on those social issues.

Jason Bradford

Yes. On the social issues. Social cultural issues.

Rob Dietz

I think listeners would be interested to know that we all three took this test, that we all answered way too many questions to be placed in these quadrants on the political compass.

Asher Miller

And I was, I gotta say, I was a little confused by it. Because I didn’t think that I was  at the very farthest right bottom corner. I don’t know how that happened. But somehow it did.

Rob Dietz

No, no, no, we were all social libertarians. All three of us. Except for Jason who is the right wing extremist.

Jason Bradford

I was the closest to the middle of these from the other two.

Rob Dietz

But you were still pretty far.

Jason Bradford

I was still pretty far. I was like, in the middle of the bottom left quadrant.

Rob Dietz

But after taking the test, from here on out you’re just gonna be known as the Stalinist.

Jason Bradford

No, Stalin would be an authoritarian left, and Mao. So you look at the reading list. They have reading lists. And it’s pretty funny, because the reading list for us would be like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.

Rob Dietz

And you know, it’s really funny, though, you can’t find a politician who’s in the quadrant that we’re in. And that’s really where the whole story lies. Why we’re critiquing the hell out of this.

Asher Miller

We spent way too much time talking about the political compass, but I would suggest the folks go check it out. It’s just politicalcompass.org. You could test yourself and you could sort of see what Jason’s talking about in terms of these quadrants. Anyways, let’s get back to neoliberalism. And before we finally get to this, this watershed moment, the Powell memo, I just want to talk about some other influences, right? We went back to 1938. We talked a little bit about some of the roots of neoliberalism. I want to reference other voices, other sources of influence, other than the Powell memo. Big one is our buddy Milton Friedman, who we probably have talked about before on this podcast. I’m not sure.

Asher Miller

Yeah, he and I are tight, man.

Rob Dietz

Buddy? That’s very generous to call him that.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, libertarian right.

Asher Miller

We are tight. So just a year before the Powell memo was submitted to the Chamber of Commerce. In September 1970, the New York Times actually published an op-ed by Milton Friedman. And it was called, “A Friedman Doctrine: The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits.”

Rob Dietz

So they forgot the anti in front of anti-social. It should have been anti, right?

Asher Miller

This was Milton’s argument. His argument was pretty basic. He said, and I’m going to quote here, “There’s one and only one social responsibility for business, to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game. Which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

Jason Bradford

Hard to find a case where that’s been true, though.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I mean, that’s the problem, right? I mean, I don’t doubt the intelligence of Milton Friedman. I’m sure he’s smarter than I am. But couldn’t he just look down the road a little ways and see that once a business becomes so profitable, and it’s trying to become more and more profitable, and that its only reason for existing that it starts doing things like buying the government and making the rules so that it can keep doing what it wants to do?

Asher Miller

Right? And I mean, he says, “Without deception or fraud,” but come on.

Rob Dietz

but you could do that without deception or fraud.

Asher Miller

Yeah, well you either game the system or you cheat, right. But to think that, that neither of those things are gonna happen. . .

Jason Bradford

Yeah. I mean, and you think about the time this is happening, right? I mean, gosh, this is the early 70s. And it was coming out of the 60s and all the environmental movements, civil rights movement, people on campuses with bell bottoms, and long hair. These guys must have hated all that.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I think they probably did. And I think that’s a good context to think about the Powell memo again because one of the things that really drove his writing of the memo was this feeling of being under attack. You had all these conservatives who believe that free markets and capitalism were under attack from four different sides of say, like a square that penned them in. So they had this real bone to pick with Keynesianism, you know. The New Deal, we’re talking 1971. So the New Deal is what? 1930s? But it’s still kind of the dominant economic political paradigm that’s getting used.

Jason Bradford

Right. And ironically, is that these are business and political conservative types who are now calling themselves Neoliberals. So that’s the problems we have with all of these terms.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. Well, and then you have another side of that square four-part attack which is unions were still growing and getting strong. And of course, if you think about a labor union, that is not something that helps a corporation maximize its profit. That’s something that where you’re trying to deal with…

Jason Bradford

Your wages might go up.

Rob Dietz

You also had the consumer safety movement. Remember Ralph Nader, kind of leading the charge there? And that led to all kinds of things like there’s a law, the Highway Safety Act of 1970s. It said, Oh, cars have to have seatbelts. Well, guess what, that’s not as profitable for a car maker if they’ve got to add safety.

Jason Bradford

They’ve got to spend $19.95 on a safety implement.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, those early seatbelts were made out of duct tape. It wasn’t quite that strong. And then finally, of course, my favorite is that the environmental movement was kicking up pretty strong at that time. You know, it’s kind of sad to think of Richard Nixon as maybe the greatest environmental president we’ve had, but so many good laws for protecting the environment were coming online at that time. And of course, that gets in the way of business. You know, if you have to do an environmental impact statement before you did your coal mine, well, that’s no fun.

Jason Bradford

Before you set the river on fire.

Asher Miller

A pain in the ass, yeah.

Rob Dietz

What was the business of, you know, what profits were they making when they were starting those river fires?

Asher Miller

Well, they cut down on their heating costs.

Jason Bradford

What is it? Externalized costs, internalized profits?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. But so I mean, that’s the deal is that these guys were feeling attacked on all sides from these different kind of movements that were bubbling up.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And I want to get back to a comment you just made Jason, which is just talking about the irony of like, or the confusion of these people being Neoliberals. But they’re actually conservatives, they’re probably culturally, constitutionally, conservatives. And I think they were feeling all these things coming together. I mean, it’s hard, you know, maybe some of our older listeners, they were part of that era, but there was a lot of chaos going on. I mean, you had all kinds of protests happening, you know, anti-war movement was full on, the civil rights movement, you have Black Panthers. You got all this stuff happening on college campuses, UC Berkeley, and other things like that.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Key parties.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. I just recently saw the movie, “Taxi Driver” for the first time, which I think came out right in that era. It seems like a good finger on the pulse of those times for what you’re talking about. Like chaos in politics and the economy.

Asher Miller

And it was a time where I think a lot of these guys, these business types, felt threatened on multiple fronts.

Jason Bradford

Well, Powell, you know, Powell was under a big threat because the dude was on the board of Philip Morris until he joined the Supreme Court.

Rob Dietz

You can’t make this shit up.

Asher Miller

It’s why I love the guy.

Rob Dietz

When he would issue his statements from the bench he’d be like, “I’ve been a smoker for 25 years. No problem.”

Asher Miller

Yeah, I mean, just to say that again for one thing. He was on the board of Philip Morris until he went right to the Supreme Court. Right. Just from one to the other.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And of course, Philip Morris has no social purpose other than to make profits and kill children.

Asher Miller

Well, yeah. And they were obviously feeling under attack. I mean, the links to cancer. That was a bummer.

Jason Bradford

But they’re having a hard time getting physicians to run ads with them, right.

Asher Miller

That’s right. So let’s talk about the memo itself. You know, this is lovely bedtime reading. I’m just gonna start where he started. So quote, “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack. There always had been some who oppose the American system and preferred socialism, or some form of statism, communism or fascism. But what concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with episodic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued.”

Rob Dietz

Wow, doesn’t Powell sound kinda like one of these paranoid guys that’s trying to gather allies to his side?

Jason Bradford

Well he’s a frickin’ rich dude is about to go on the Supreme Court and he’s quaking in his boots. This is so interesting.

Asher Miller

Yeah. He’s pointing to this grand conspiracy.

Rob Dietz

I liked his rhetorical device at the beginning, though. “No thoughtful person.” You’re an idiot.

Asher Miller

You have to completely agree with me, I’m just gonna set this out. Right?

Rob Dietz

I’m gonna start everything I write with “no thoughtful person.” That’s a good one.

Asher Miller

He continues in – And I think this is really important because it points the strategy laid out in the memo. He continues by saying that, “The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society, from the college campus, from the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journalism, the arts and sciences, and for politicians.”

Rob Dietz

Nice. Stepping up the paranoia even more.

Asher Miller

So it’s not just that there’s like this group of these fringe socialists or whatever. Although he did talk about how they were so well funded, which is fucking laughable. But you know, he’s talking about  those views, these anti-enterprise views, right, were really being espoused by respectable elements of society

Rob Dietz

Was this guy buddies with McCarthy? It kind of sounds like a similar point of view.

Asher Miller

Well, I mean, keep in mind, we’re in the height of the Cold War still. The Soviet Union, communism was very top of mind as a real threat. I mean, the whole idea of like, Vietnam was about stopping the spread of communism, right. So, you know, you can kind of understand the paranoia. And when you see all these hippies on college campuses, or you’ve got Earth Day with what? 10 million people marching in the streets. And you’ve got all kinds of alternate cultural stuff going on. . .  Probably pretty scary for these guys. Right? So anyway, so he’s he laid out five targets for persuasion, basically, in this memo. And we were talking about this a little bit,  one of them is the campus. So he argued that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has to embark on a long term plan to produce the academic voice for the free market. They’re seeing college campuses being these hotbeds of real liberal, progressive thought and rhetoric, and they needed to counter that so they needed to invest.

Jason Bradford

And that might be where the economics departments really got taken over then after this.

Asher Miller

Absolutely. Yeah, for sure.

Rob Dietz

If there’s one thing you want on a college campus, you don’t want creative thinking. You want the most conservative, most neoliberal thoughts.

Asher Miller

I will say, keep in mind for them that they probably did not see that there was a balance whatsoever to it. I mean, they might have even thought that they were just trying to have a balance rather than saying let’s eradicate these liberal voices altogether. We just need to counter that a little bit. So he was talking about developing a staff of scholars and speakers and evaluating textbooks. Kind of reminds me now of like, the critical race theory stuff, right? Evaluating textbooks, fighting for equal time on campuses, that kind of a thing.

Jason Bradford

Okay. Well, also, he had a long list of things for the Chamber of Commerce to do, his buddy, his neighbor friend. Also, educate the public on the virtues of a free market. Getting the public on our side, using staff speakers, TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, and books. Fund all these things, fund people to be out there in the media all the time. That is something we definitely started seeing.

Rob Dietz

Well, yeah, like today. It feels overwhelmingly like they succeeded. It’s crazy when you look at how much in the media that notion is. I have to say my favorite venue where Powell was looking to pedal influence was the political arena. And this is great because he kind of says to the Chamber of Commerce, he says, quote, “As unwelcome as it may be to the chamber, it should consider assuming a broader and more vigorous role in the political arena”. He’s basically saying, “Yeah, I know, this is unsavory. But you got to just take one for the team and get in there and get involved in lobbying your politicians.” And what’s absolutely bonkers about this is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wound up becoming the largest lobbying group in the United States, spending more than $1.75 billion between 1998 and 2022. And that’s 2.5 times higher than the next highest lobbyist. It’s just crazy.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And that’s just lobbying, right? So that doesn’t count their political campaign spending. I mean, from a group that had been around for a while and wasn’t really engaging in that stuff to now basically being the most dominant lobbying force in a voice for business in the country. . .

Rob Dietz

Yeah I mean, they took Powell’s advice as a challenge. As unwelcome as it may be, we’re gonna just take it in, go do this.

Asher Miller

Right. So we talked about the campus, we talked about the public sphere, we talked about the political arena. I want to talk about the courts, too. So he basically laid out that the Chamber needed to have a real strategy to engage in the court system and that they needed to develop a highly competent staff of lawyers. They had to play the role within the courts as a spokesman for American business. It’s interesting to think about now, so much consternation, obviously, over what’s happening in the courts, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court around women’s reproductive rights, for example, and other issues that really have to do with individual rights. But it’s remarkable the impact that’s happened within the court system in terms of it becoming so pro-business, you know. And you look at for example, the U.S. Supreme Court, and consistently, what you’ve seen from the court, and it’s not just a court when it’s run by conservatives. A consistent favoring of the business interests over those of consumers or the individual.

Rob Dietz

Right. Or even to the extent that they’ve upheld the idea that corporations are citizens. But what’s amazing, is that Powell is the ultimate role model for taking over the courts. Here he is, he’s the guy that saying,we need to do this. And then he goes off and becomes a Supreme Court justice.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, good job.

Asher Miller

At least he’s consistent. And he walked the talk.

Jason Bradford

He’s a model for the neoliberalism agenda. And, you know, also they went after stockholders. So I guess people who own stocks, they’re owning these corporations through publicly traded entities. And the Chamber of Commerce should educate the 20 at the time in 1971, the 20 million American stockholders on how they benefit from the current system, and encourage them become politically active and fight for that system.

Asher Miller

And you could see that how influential it is to think about the interests of the shareholder as being sort of the bottom line. And that’s consistent with what Milton Friedman was talking about.

Rob Dietz

Look how many people now got aligned with that through retirement accounts and mutual funds and it’s just grown incredibly.

Jason Bradford

There’s way more shareholders of stocks now than there were back then.

Rob Dietz

And then that means you have people rooting for continuous profiteering, continuous growth, and companies continuous growth in the economy. Because their personal wealth is directly tied to it. Pretty brilliant strategy really?

Asher Miller

Right. So he lays out this strategy, talks about these arenas that they needed to focus on and really invest in. But he also ends the memo with an appeal that would, I think, become really a core part of the messaging. And one of the things that’s so sort of nefarious about the kind of neoliberal worldview, not so much neoliberal policies, but the worldview, and he said that, quote, “The threat to the enterprise system is not merely a matter of economics. It is also a threat to individual freedom. There seems to be little awareness of the only alternatives to free enterprise are varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist, or rightist dictatorship. As the experience of socialist and totalitarian states demonstrates, the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights. Is this message above all others that must be carried home to the American people?” So he’s conflating the freedom of enterprise and markets with that of individual freedom.

Rob Dietz

That’s why the Scandinavian countries are such miserable places to live, obviously, and why life sucks.

Asher Miller

Absolutely those people who just, yeah. They’ve got no say over their lives.

Jason Bradford

Well, that that is very interesting, though. How he almost is talking about this slippery slope problem, right? He’s worried that if we give in at all to allowing the state to create some kind of balance in economic affairs, that it will then take over everything and we’ll lose all freedom. But you know, what’s interesting, of course, is thinking about  the Keynesian situation, it was the state that prevented people from starving. It was the state that prevented people from being completely unemployed in perpetuity. They stepped in and you know, are you free when you can’t find a meal –

Asher Miller

– to feed your kids.

Jason Bradford

Right, right. So this is the irony here. Well, you’re free to starve.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, let’s start making a little turn toward these effects of the Powell memo and where it went. And I wanted to tell you guys about this book that I read, not too long ago by Jane Mayer called “Dark Money.” It’s kind of about money and influence in politics. And she said that it was “Powell’s memo that electrified the right, prompting a new breed of wealthy ultra conservatives to weaponize their philanthropic giving, in order to fight a multi front war of influence over American political thought.” So you know, there’s your reasoning behind the watershed moment selection of Powell’s memo. It was like the rallying cry that these pretty powerful individuals and then pretty powerful institutions need to kind of coalesce.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I think that’s the direct legacy we’re talking about here. Since you all three of us were born basically, the transformation that’s occurred has been rather remarkable. And it this rise of these institutions that did not exist before. And this became the blueprint then of the American Conservative Movement. And it used then these think tanks, for example. And ultra-wealthy businessman like the Koch brothers, Joseph Coors, Richard Mellon, they eagerly jumped on board. And they collaborated in building these institutions, lobbying through them, and hugely influential. So you hear them. This is where you see so and so from the Heritage Foundation, or the Cato Institute, or the American Enterprise Institute, or the Federalist Society with the courts and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or Alec.

Rob Dietz

I want to go work for one of those for a while just to see how stodgy-

Jason Bradford

I think a lot of them are pretty energized.

Asher Miller

I’m gonna admit something. They probably pay a little better than PCI.

Rob Dietz

Now. I’m definitely gonna go work for one of them. Anybody from the Heritage Foundation that’s listening, do you want a… I should drop the ecological economist. Get rid of “ecological.” How about a neo-economist? Does that work?

Asher Miller

It’s true. I mean, you think about those institutions. I mean, those are all in a sense, a direct result of the Powell memo — that strategy that was that was laid out. You could just pick any one of these and look at the influence that they’ve had because they’ve also themselves have had this multi prong strategy. You know, working in college campuses, working in the courts. I mean, just look at the Federalist Society and the success that they’ve had, basically grooming from the earliest stages of people schooling and careers to become justices going all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Jason Bradford

It’s like, you know, we have this funnel for Olympic athletes where there’s training camps for skiing, or whatever. And some of those kids end up making it onto the Olympic team. I think the same sort of idea, your use of these institutions that are just checking people on college campuses and moving them into clerkships  and paying for things, giving them scholarships and grants. And the creme de la creme end up sitting on the Supreme Court.

Rob Dietz

Well, we don’t just have to stick with anecdotes or even speculation. The numbers don’t lie. I can give you some stats. And these come from another book that Elana unearthed for us. This is from Alec MacGillis. He wrote a book called, “Fulfillment.” And he’s looking at the rise of the influence of big business over the 70s in follow up to the Powell memo being released. And so here’s just a few stats: The US Chamber of Commerce doubled its membership between 1974 and 1980. That’ a short timeframe. You have another doubling here, the staunchly conservative National Federation of Independent Businesses, they doubled in size over the decade of the 70s. In 1968, only 100 corporations had public affairs offices in Washington D.C. A decade later, well, doubling? Ha no, how about five times? Now you’ve got 500

Asher Miller

Can’t imagine what it’s like now.

Rob Dietz

Oh, yeah. It’s a lot. Okay. One last stat: The number of firms with registered lobbyists in Washington grew from 175 in 1971 to 2,500 in 1982. And that’s in ’82.

Jason Bradford

That’s a long time ago.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. So today, there are more lobbyists in Washington than there are stars in the galaxy. There are more lobbyists in Washington than there are atoms on the planet Earth. There are . . . I don’t know. . . But there’s a lot. There’s many, many, many lobbyists.

Asher Miller

What a fun town. God, that sounds so great.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And since it’s all funded by Joseph Coors, not only do you have all these lobbyists, but they’re drinking the worst beer ever brewed. Do they ever brew it, or do they just pour rice into water and wait?

Asher Miller

I don’t think it’s rice. I think it’s piss. Yeah. So one of the things about Powell strategy I think is worth pointing out and talking about is sort of the long game approach. They took this approach of trying to, in a sense, either create new institutions, infiltrate existing institutions, like higher-ed, for example, the court systems, and knowing that it was going to take some time. Right, so you talked, Rob, a little bit about how the landscape was changing over the course of the 70s since the Powell memo was released, but you know, it really all came together this beautiful, beautiful moment when Reagan is elected. And now it’s morning in America.

Rob Dietz

M-O-U-R-N-I-N-G. We’re all mourning for America.

Asher Miller

Yeah.

Jason Bradford

Put the astrologists in charge.

Rob Dietz

Well, it’s not just Reagan. I mean, we’ve talked about Reagan before. In fact, I want to remind our listeners of our second ever episode where Jason –

Jason Bradford

Wow. That was years ago. I was a young man.

Rob Dietz

– actually proposed digging up Reagan’s corpse and then punching him in the mouth.

Jason Bradford

I didn’t say that, did I?

Asher Miller

You said you wanted to punch Ronnie in the mouth.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, but did I talk about grave robbing?

Asher Miller

How else are you gonna punch him in the mouth?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, we’re gonna have to go back to the internet archives and find that.

Asher Miller

That’s gonna be used against you man, when you run for political office. “He wanted to punch Ronnie in the mouth.”

Rob Dietz

All right. Yeah. You’re never getting elected. Frickin’ Reagan puncher.

Asher Miller

So like you were just saying, Rob, it wasn’t just Reagan. I mean, it was Reagan in the U.S., Thatcher in the UK, right? They really ushered in the neoliberal age. And it’s really remarkable to think about the shit that went down during the eight years of the Reagan administration. And I’m just gonna give – I think we should just give people a tiny, like little sliver, a morsel of the reforms that the Reagan administration –

Asher Miller

Reforms. It sounds benign. And this come from a much longer list from a book by Kurt Andersen called “Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America.”

Jason Bradford

Reforms?

Jason Bradford

Haha. Evil geniuses.

Rob Dietz

There was a Saturday Night Live skit like that where Reagan is this nice happy, “Yeah, remember meeting greeting kids in the White House!” And then as soon as they leave he’s like this evil genius pushing his war stuff.

Asher Miller

Right. Because there was a sort of, it was a meme before memes, but there’s a kind of this portrayal of him as kind of a doddering idiot, right? So the idea that he was actually just pretending, but behind the scenes of this . . .

Jason Bradford

We’ve got Nancy with “Don’t do drugs,” and you got the Iran Contra thing and the Noriega thing. It was just ridiculous.

Asher Miller

So we got Nancy, you know, talking to an astrologer and getting her recommendations. So here are just a few things. I want to start by talking about taxes. The debate that we have about taxes these days, about increasing taxes from some measly percentage to a slightly less measly. I think it’s just really important to recognize that we had a top income tax rate on the richest. Before Reagan, it was 70%. And then it dropped to 28%.  I mean, that’s just crazy. And then you look at the tax rate on stock profits, you know, capital gains, right. They reduce that from 28% to 20%. A lot of the wealth that people are generating now really comes from these kinds of stock gains. You’ve got lowering of state taxes on the rich. Basically, for instance, if heirs to like a $3 million fortune, after Reagan came in, they would pay about a million dollars less in taxes.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. The other thing they of course is that the state should not be interfering in the business of business, right? They should just be enforcing private property rights. And if anyone tries to screw with business, they’re going to jail. But business should be able to do it once. So they also started just cutting the regulation of corporations, antitrust laws. So there was a long standing federal prohibition on companies buying their own stock, and it’s meant to prevent share price manipulation. Media deregulation, the federal rule that TV and radio broadcasters must prevent a diversity of use is repealed. So now, you know, we got our favorite TV stations. And then banking deregulation. This is awesome. Consumer credit is deregulated excessively causing consumer debt to suddenly explode and interest payments to balloon. So maybe there’s more but huge changes in banking, media and corporate governance.

Jason Bradford

There’s a lot on the environmental side too, right.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. I mean, there’s the attacks on labor and the social safety net. I mean, let’s not forget Reagan’s really famous firing of the air traffic controllers who went on strike to get fair pay and increase wages. His administration is attacking the hell out of unions, they’re pushing this trickle down economics idea. That’s why you could you could cut taxes, and you could do all that  because it’d be better. They’re gonna trickle urine down all over the floor. Really pretty rough theory. And then you think about minimum wage, it was frozen for an entire decade, I can remember this. I remember, when I was trying to get a job as a teenager, the minimum wage, it was like $3.35 an hour was minimum wage. And that had been that for the whole decade.

Asher Miller

I miss that. Those were the good old days.

Jason Bradford

It was good. Well, the other thing that they did, of course, was you see this more and more as the privatization of government functions? Because you think about if you’re cutting taxes, then the government can’t do as much? Well, of course, this is the whole plan, private enterprise needs to step in. The worst example, for me is the whole private prison thing, right? I mean, there you have a situation, of course, where now there’s a disincentive to reduce the size of the prison population from the perspective of corporate investment and profits. So that’s just sickening. Right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that is a rough one. But I think we also got a hit a little bit more on the one you just brought up, Asher, which is environmental action. Like I said, earlier, you had this Nixon era pumping up of environmental regulations. Well that all just gets in the way and  they’re trying to figure out how to undermine environmental protection wherever they can. And this is when there was the scientific consensus around climate change that came up in this  in this Reagan era. And this is also when the petroleum industry in the political right got together to be downplaying the threat that was posed by climate change and CO2 emission. So you know, that’s, where you took the smoking lobby, the denial of the medical effects there and just transferred that over to denying the effects of climate and we all know where we are today facing serious threat and facing the crises that are coming.

Asher Miller

Yeah. As you said, Jason, there’s probably a lot more than we could say sort of about how the Reagan era was in a sense of culmination of a lot of these neoliberal policies and kind of worldview stuff. But I think it’s worth just talking about another in some ways even more extreme example of neoliberalism gone wild. And that is the story of Chile.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. What they’re willing to do.

Asher Miller

And I don’t think we could spend a lot of time talking about it. There’s some great, I mean, I think Naomi Klein talks about this in her book, “Shock Doctrine.” There are others who’ve written about what happened under the Pinochet regime, in the role that  specifically the The Chicago School of Economics played. Remember, we talked about Milton Friedman earlier from the University of Chicago. And they had a direct hand in shaping government policies. They’re sort of given an invitation to come in and tell us how we should set up all of our economic policies, how we should run everything. They went so far as to change the constitution and make it impossible, effectively impossible for the populace to actually regain control over a lot of these laws and the way things have worked. And they quote, unquote, open it up for free markets and privatized just about everything they possibly could. It was a hellscape. And in order to, it’s interesting, you were talking about sort of the political compass earlier, Jason. It’s like Pinochet combined, on the one hand, this sort of neoliberal, quote, unquote, free market, economic policy with authoritarianism and fascism, basically. I mean, it was killing off opponents. It was as extreme – I mean, I guess you could get more extreme, but they were bedfellows with this. It’s very much like, we actually want the state in the interest of supporting quote, unquote, free enterprise to do whatever it takes. Even if it means killing off people, right?

Rob Dietz

Right. Well and Naomi Klein, as you mentioned, her book “Shock Doctrine.” This was the demonstration project for what she calls Disaster Capitalism — going in when there’s unrest or a problem and then instituting all of these neoliberal principles, because you can do it at a time when people are hurting or when there’s a natural disaster or something that disrupts society.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, yeah. So this is a watershed moment because it’s one of those things that there wasn’t a big news event about this. But it unleashed this sort of chain of consequences from Powell convincing his neighbor in the Chamber of Commerce to do this and convincing these ultra conservative, right wing, rich, wealthy businessmen to fund these think tanks that had the strategy laid out and just take over as much as they could of political life in America and then spread that around the world. But now it’s so ubiquitous. It is the doctrine of the nations that we live in and travel to that we don’t see it for what it is.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s even hard to overstate or exaggerate the role to which neoliberal politics in the world view has invaded all aspects of daily life and politics. You got globalization, you got free trade agreements, offshoring, the gutting of Main Street, and implosion of local economies, you’ve got climate chaos inequality. You know, we can’t go on a rant about health care in the United States and profit maximization and that sector of the economy, but that’s a real problem. You got banks run amok that led to the Great Recession in 2008 – 2009.

Asher Miller

I mean, think about like the opioid crisis. You know, what you saw with Oxycontin and . . .

Jason Bradford

Hundreds of thousands have died because of this.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And then it just even more recently in the news, I think a really telling example, is Avid Nutrition, right? This one of the few makers of baby formula in this country. There are not many of these companies around selling stuff at a large scale. And in a situation with a real scarcity of baby formula, which literally is a life or death situation for many families, especially ones where they need it because of their dietary issues for these poor little babies. And Abbott was a company that had been told that they had basically broken machines in this plant of theirs, I think in Michigan, that was creating bacteria. Some kind of infection actually killed some babies. And instead of choosing to fix these things, to fix these machines, it actually took a whistleblower for this to come out. They decided, what did they decide to do instead, thanks to Reagan era economics? They decided to do a stock buyback.

Jason Bradford

Keep the price of the stock up before they –

Asher Miller

Let’s buy back our stock.

Rob Dietz

Just shut up. There is one and only one social responsibility of business.

Asher Miller

It’s to buy back your stock?

Rob Dietz

That’s to maximize profits. Okay? Can we all agree with this? Right? What did babies ever do for us?

Jason Bradford

They’re not productive members of society, God sakes!

Rob Dietz

Can’t even hold down a job for crying out loud!

Asher Miller

Well, they are, if you think about it from the whole Adrenochrome thing.

Jason Bradford

They’re welfare infants.

Asher Miller

Yeah, they don’t do anything. They just drink formula and milk. Ugh.  Now, look, we may be showing a bias here. But I would argue that it’s fairly safe to say that neoliberalism has clearly failed society, right? I mean, you look at a lot of the issues that we’re dealing with right now sort of them unraveling of all of these systems, right. And the neoliberal world order has been a major influence in all of those things. But I think it’s also important to recognize that progressives, you know, neoliberals, starting with the Powell memo, developed the long term strategy to implement and it seized upon crises, like in places like Chile. Or took advantage of getting people elected, like Reagan, to enact their things. We’ve seen failures of the neoliberal system happening, but where have the alternatives been? They haven’t shown up. Now, George Monbiot actually wrote this back in 2016.

Jason Bradford

He pointed this out. Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, plug for George. He’s one of the most amazing critics of neoliberalism as an environmentalist. You’d kind of think of him as mostly focusing on climate or that sort of stuff. But he recognizes it’s the neoliberal economics system that’s really at the root of the problem.

Asher Miller

And if folks don’t know, he’s a columnist at the Guardian in the UK. And as he wrote a piece, I thought it was really, really interesting about neoliberalism. And we’ll include in our show notes. In it, he wrote, quote, “Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 1970s, there was an alternative ready.” That was neoliberalism. “But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008, there was nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and center have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.”

Jason Bradford

I have to take issue with that. I think George is overstating it. We’ve talked about this. There was of course, the limits to growth, there was Herman Daly and all his work on the steady state economy, ecological economics. I remember that prior to 2008, there was a lot of work on trying new metrics, you know, alternatives to the GDP, redefining progress, these kinds of things. There was the Business Alliance for local living economies, which was sort of different than the Chamber of Commerce. I think what we need to look at is, what were their budgets? Who was funding them? And how much for how long?

Asher Miller

I’m glad you asked because I actually did a little research on that. So let’s just do a little comparison based upon the data that I can find. So here are the budgets I could find for some of the think tanks that we talked about earlier that were created or influenced by the Powell memo. Cato Institute, their budget in 2020, $32 million.

Jason Bradford

Nice.

Asher Miller

American Enterprise Institute, $48 million. Heritage Foundation. $79 million. And I’m just focusing on think tanks, right? So thinking about think tanks in our space. And you know, I think people might define these things a little differently.

Jason Bradford

But comparable.

Asher Miller

Yeah. I wouldn’t say just economically progressive but sort of see environmental issues, maybe recognize some of the limits or issues that we see. So first of all, there are not a lot of them, but let’s look at Institute for Policy Studies, which has been around for the longest as a progressive think tank. They’ve got a healthy budget, I would say. But compared to these guys, maybe not so much. $4.5 million.

Jason Bradford

Okay, order of magnitude less. Go ahead. Keep going.

Asher Miller

We got the Democracy Collaborative. You know Gar Alperovitz’s group. A little bit better. $6.3 million.

Jason Bradford

Okay, another order of magnitude less. Okay, cool.

Asher Miller

So we’ve got, I never like to you know, to toot our own horn too much.

Rob Dietz

Oh, PCI. You’re about to reveal our budget. I don’t think you’re tooting our horn here.

Asher Miller

Just a whopping $800 grand.

Jason Bradford

Okay, two orders of magnitude less. Fine. Great. All right, donate. Um, anyhow, what about bigger things like Worldwatch, Earth Policy Institute, Center for a New American Dream, Redefining Progress?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Rip Van Winkle over here has been asleep for a while because they’re all gone. And don’t forget the one I used to run, CASSE. Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy. It actually has lived on.

Asher Miller

How many employees do they have?

Rob Dietz

Probably 1000s. I haven’t kept up but I mean, since I left, of course it’s gonna thrive.

Jason Bradford

Right. No, but I think my point has been made, George. Okay. Follow the frickin’ money. It’s not that the ideas aren’t there. I just don’t think they get funded.

Rob Dietz

Well, it’s a totally unfair fight, right? I mean, you have these neoliberal think tanks that are funded by corporations, which then allows them to influence politics and media and bring in more members more donors. You get this vicious reinforcing feedback loop. And meanwhile, the opposite sorts of think tanks like us, we’re on the more of a shoestring budget. I mean, I don’t want to complain about our funding. It’s, you know, our donors are very generous, and I really appreciate it. But you know, you can’t compare our budget to the Heritage Foundation.

Asher Miller

I do want to point out there are, you know, a few larger, quote unquote, liberal think tanks out there that people might think, “Okay, well, you guys didn’t mention them. They’re not the Heritage Foundation. Maybe they’re on the opposite side.” So, and we’re talking about Center for American Progress, right. And Deimos is another one. Center for American Progress. They have a very healthy budget. We’re talking $49 million a year. Deimos is like a little over $11 million dollars. But let’s be honest, they’re basically neoliberals too.

Jason Bradford

Yes, I think that’s the case you’ll find. Go back to the political compass map, for example, and you’ll look at political figures in the United States. And both Biden and Trump are in the same quadrant and not that far apart. The Democrats are a little bit lower down than the Republicans, but they’re in the same exact quadrant of the authoritarian right.

Rob Dietz

It’s fascinating how much vitriol and polarization there is between these two parties that are almost in the same spot in the quadrant.

Jason Bradford

They are. And they’re just chunking up these social issues in different ways, using them as wedges.

Rob Dietz

That’s kind of the issue. Right? I mean, people think there’s a 50/50 split in the United States, between conservatives and liberals. And maybe that’s true culturally, or, you know, on these wedge social issues.

Asher Miller

I think it is true. I mean, I think we should just say, there is a meaningful difference there when we’re talking about the rights of people to marry someone of the same sex or having an abortion, you know.

Rob Dietz

Sure. But the comparison to make though, is with economic issues. There’s no 50/50 split. We, and the kinds of things we’re promoting, like degrowth are just not even close to half of the conversation. We’ve got neoliberalism dominating all the political conversation.

Asher Miller

Yeah, I’m glad you you brought up the degrowth thing, Rob. Because, you know, think about this, there are people who are argue that we need to return to Keynesian sort of economic policies.

Jason Bradford

You know, MMT is somewhat aligned with that.

Rob Dietz

You mean modern monetary theory?

Asher Miller

Bingo. You talk about the Green New Deal, which is like, we’re gonna provide employment and the government’s gonna spend a bunch of money to help with a renewable energy transition. All well and good. But you know, these are ideas of like, you know, sort of green growth, still fixated on consumer demand, which is where Keynesian economics was.

Rob Dietz

And reliant on a fantasy as well. That you can continuously grow the economy while not using any energy or materials.

Asher Miller

So degrowth is like, I don’t know if Monbiot would agree with this, but saying that there hasn’t been an alternative sort of put out by the left, it’s their failure to not take advantage in a sense of the failure of neoliberalism to come up with an alternative. I don’t think the alternative is going back to Keynesian economic theory. Is it degrowth? Yeah, good question. But degrowth is not a popular aspirational vision that you can imagine politicians selling to the public. So I think it’s a real challenge to think about how to do that in this moment.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s a lot easier to sell denial, delusion, and climate chaos.

Asher Miller

Well, let’s just do that then.

Rob Dietz

Okay, listeners, you have heard a lot from us. And if we haven’t scared you away yet. You’ve got a chance to get a little more interactive with us. We’re going to be staging one of our favorite events of the year. The Crazy Town Hall.

Jason Bradford

Is this like staging like the moon landing?

Rob Dietz

Kinda.

Jason Bradford

Okay, great. Well, the Crazy Town Hall is an interactive event that will take place on July 12, 2022 at 10am U.S. Pacific Time, and you get to be in an online conference with the three of us and you can ask us questions. We’re gonna play fun games and get some insider dirt on the podcast. And maybe we’ll laugh.

Asher Miller

Twister right? We’re going to do Twister?

Jason Bradford

Okay. That’ll be great.

Asher Miller

Yeah, so Crazy Town hall is for real crazy townies, right. People who want to support the podcast. So if you’d like an invitation to the town hall, we’re asking that you make a recurring monthly donation. It can be of any amount to the Post Carbon Institute. If you’re already a donor, we thank you so much for your support. You’re gonna automatically get an invite. And keep in mind your donations help us with things like buying enough duct tape to repair our microphones. That’s important.

Rob Dietz

It is. But hell, if we get enough donations, maybe we can hire some decent hosts.

Jason Bradford

Oh my gosh. I would love that.

Asher Miller

You would love that? Our listeners would love it.

Rob Dietz

Seriously, please join us at the Crazy Town Hall on July 12, 2022. To sign up, go to postcarbon.org/crazy town. That’s postcarbon.org/crazytown. Hope to see you there.

George  Costanza

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Rob Dietz

Well, for a first do the opposite we need a new Powell memo for this moment in history. And Jason, I’m going to recruit you to my side to convince Asher to be the author of that. Doesn’t the Miller memo have a nice. . .

Jason Bradford

I like that. I was wondering what the name would be. And I think that it’s kind of like alliteration.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. The Miller Memo!

Asher Miller

Do you think we can get Miller Lite?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, sponsor?

Rob Dietz

That can be your executive summary. Miller Lite, brought to you by Miller Lite.

Asher Miller

Well, that’s a major undertaking. I agree with you. But the other thing I would just say is we are lamenting how few think tanks there are promoting alternatives.

Rob Dietz

It’s getting lonely out.

Asher Miller

So if listeners can support them –

Jason Bradford

Billionaire listeners.

Asher Miller

Billionaires. Great. But I would say any form of support helps.

Rob Dietz

Even hundredaires.

Asher Miller

Support the few think tanks that get it and are putting out alternatives. But the other thing is, it’s about shifting narratives. I mean, I talked about that a little bit just talking about the challenge of framing and promoting degrowth as sort of an alternative. We need a new story. Part of the appeal, I think of neoliberalism and the success that they’ve had was it wasn’t just about the fact that it was aligned with their self-interest. Their philosophy and what they’re espousing also happened to make them a shit ton of money. That makes it a lot easier. But it’s also that they had a narrative that tapped into something. This idea of equating free markets and enterprise with freedom for people. For the individuals, that story is failed. I mean, we’ve seen that so we need a new one. It replaces the story of freedom and individualism and the story of progress and growth with one about, maybe it’s about meaning and purpose. It’s about regeneration. And it’s about beauty and connection.

Rob Dietz

How about throw survival on that heap as well. I also think you’re right, totally right. A new narrative is long overdue. I also think we need to consider how we relate with one another. So if neoliberalism is about this increasing depersonalization in the marketplace and buying and selling and becoming less and less of a community, maybe we can kind of turn that around. We were joking earlier like what’s the opposite of neo? I think, Jason, you said it’s paleo. So maybe we can develop a “paleoprogressivism” or a “paleocommunitarianism.”

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Good terms for this.

Rob Dietz

And the idea is that we really embrace mutual aid and true relationships in a community based market where your interactions have much more meaning, much more of the personal touch behind them.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. They’re voluntary engagement in a sense. There’s not some heavy state actor making you do anything, but you are doing things together.

Rob Dietz

This is especially important as the neoliberal economic system collapses.

Jason Bradford

I think that’s right. I think that’s why I want to talk about, yeah, do the opposite. Because the system we’re seeing is not going to last right? And if you ask, who are in charge right now, what is their political philosophy? It’s the opposite of the three of us. Okay? Everybody in the dominant political business leadership today in so called Western nations that we mostly inhabit, they’re in the authoritarian right And guess what, if you believe it, what allows this system to flourish, this neoliberalism, this basically synonymous with globalization, all the trappings of high energy, modernity, the big state systems that are there to support all that. It’s this duopoly with state and market in the large sense. If that’s coming to an end then we probably need to look at, and I’m talking to maybe politicians and political and business leaders, we probably need to look at the opposite political philosophy. To come up with some reasonable responses on how we’re going to organize or reorganize societies.

Rob Dietz

Well, it sounds easy. Let’s get to it. We want to give a special thanks to Elana Zuber, our star researcher of the watershed moments through history. Without her work, there’s no way we could have covered such sweeping topics this season.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and we also want to thank our other outstanding volunteers. Anya Steuer provides original artwork for us and Taylor Antal prepares the transcripts for each episode.

Jason Bradford

And a big, big thank you to our producer, Melody Travers, who helps us Bozos stay professional.

Rob Dietz

And finally, thanks to you, our listeners. If you want to help others find their way to Crazy Town please drop us a five star rating and hit that share button when you hear an episode you like.

Jason Bradford

Guys, I am so sorry about today’s sponsor, but I want to let you know they paid us a shit ton of money. And relax, okay. They assured me they do not want us to change our messaging at all even though they just gave us more fun than we have seen in the past decade.

Jason Bradford

Okay, here it goes. Here it goes. The following message is brought to you by the Nero Institute. Crazy Town is hosted by three middle aged white guys. If you’re a young or a person of BIPOC background you should not trust them. We have looked into the financial records of the Crazy Town hosts and they are not at all that impressive. They missed every big opportunity to cash in on the wealth generation of their generation, not buying Apple or Amazon or Tesla stocks, or any cryptocurrencies. Pathetic. Oh, and their  jowls sag. But let us not dwell on their personal failings which are too many to enumerate anyway.

Asher Miller

Okay. I’m excited.

Asher Miller

I’m getting offended here.

Rob Dietz

I don’t have saggy jowls. What are you talking about?

Jason Bradford

Quiet. Clam your yapper. Most importantly, the ideas on this podcast are unAmerican, anti-apple pie, and even border an anti-human. That’s right. It may be fair to call them traitors to our species. Their rants on the progress myth are tiresome, and their disrespect to Ronald Reagan is infuriating. And they keep saying stuff about energy we don’t understand. But we want them to stick around and the Nero Institute will fund them at obscene levels. Why? Because they are the perfect foil to the way of life we espouse. Human domination, state control, market liberties and best of all, decadent freedom. Okay, sorry I had to do that guys, but-

Asher Miller

That was tough. They’ve been ripping us a lot of money to sit there and be insulted like that.

Rob Dietz

Oh. I’m going to use whatever they funded us to go get a jowl lift.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I need that.