Neoliberalism and the Withering Away of The State

From Wikipedia:

"Withering away of the state" is a Marxist concept coined by Friedrich Engels referring to the idea that, with realization of the ideals of socialism, neoliberalism, the social institution of a state will eventually become obsolete and disappear as the society will be able to govern itself without the state and its coercive enforcement of the law.

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On March 10, 2020, the National Basketball Association shut itself down to prevent the spread of Covid-19, before either the Federal Government or any State had issued any such order. College basketball immediately revised its previous decision to play March Madness without fans to cancel the championship tournament. By the end of that week, toilet paper disappeared and grocery shopping became a dystopian nightmare.

At the time I thought that was bizarre and ever since I have marveled at the weird mix of public and private sector decision making in this crisis. The daily ration of "news" features much reporting and even more speculation about the creation of a vaccine, a deus ex machina that is hoped will smite the evil virus. Once it exists. So now there are literally hundreds of for profit corporations racing, literally racing, for the bonanza of getting there first. It is the policy of our government to encourage this race and that gazillion dollar payoff is considered the best inducement to ensure success.

So who is going to decide which Magic Injection is first? That implies being sure that it will work as advertised. Who makes that call? Trump? Biden? The Ghost of Mr. Science?

This begs the even bigger question of who is in charge now?

I take no position in this screed as to whether anybody intended for this to happen, but we are watching the withering away of the state, as naively predicted by Engels to give way to the fair distribution of production established by a triumphant working class. It turns out that driving force now is The Corporation. Having corrupted the State and rendered it useless through intentional incompetence, The Corporation is now replacing The State as the setter of rules and the enforcement of social discipline.

You see the First Amendment rendered obsolete by Social Media mega-corporations who now define the truth and suppress what used to called dissent as toxic disinformation.

You see the basic premise of democracy thrown out the window because of the virus. It takes "science" to deal with it, not your own ignorant and selfish point of view. So, although the elected leaders like Trump, Cuomo and Newsome are the guys on TV telling us what the decisions were, they ain't scientists either. And guess what? We have a political debate about whether each of those Electeds really listened to real science.

Where to we find Science to get the right answer? Who pays for science these days? Who signs the paychecks for the scientists who really know the right answer? How many professional researchers are drawing checks that are absolutely free of political or corporate taint?

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Where I live in West Hollywood, California, there has been civil unrest, rioting, enough looting to oblige virtually every merchant to board up the storefront -- yet almost everybody wears their mask in public. For whatever reason, people around here take the virus seriously, even when they are looting. Well, they ain't obeying Trump, that's for sure. And they ain't obeying the police.

But they do obey Science.

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Six months after starting the national shutdown, the National Basketball Association created a studio version of the sport and the playoffs are currently proceeding in a Disney owned property called, The Bubble. On the floor of the basketball court you see written in letters bigger than the paid advertising, "Black Lives Matter." Same thing with the women's pro league.

And you can find Black Lives Matter Public Service Announcements on television regularly and if you look quickly at the end, you can see that it was produced by The Ad Council.

I have no complaint against corporate America changing sides and supporting the idea of BLM. It is better than the opposite. But, holy shit!!! This is now a corporate institution that goes far beyond just the NBA. You have the broadcast partners at Disney and WarnerMedia, and you have all their zillion sponsors -- all driving home this message directly connected to the riots.

I repeat, I would rather have the networks saying nice things about the profound outrage that drove two weeks of mostly peaceful demonstrations all over the country than calling for the National Guard to restore order. But, uh, something is not quite right about all this.

We also have the strange movement to Defund The Police. Of all the ways to address the longing for a fair, honest, honorable and compassionate police department, cutting off the money cold turkey is probably the stupidest. It is also the surest way to motivate cops to be pigs -- to come after their jobs.

But it does occur to me that if the urban police department does not survive the coming Depression and social upheaval, the gooniest of the goons will have no trouble finding work in private security, working for corporations who will make sure that they have all the law and order they need, as the State withers away.

The original selling point of neoliberalism was that anything the State can do for you, a profit making operation can do it better. They have already "privatized" prisons and schools. The virus is speeding up the process of government discrediting itself.

The chaos of the election that both parties are planning will be a hoot. Probably the last one.

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Pricknick's picture

The chaos of the election that both parties are planning will be a hoot. Probably the last one.

I wish for it to happen. The two party only system is beyond doom for this nation.
I would think it more probable for violence to increase while the douopoly remains.
Very nice diary.
Thanks

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Regardless of the path in life I chose, I realize it's always forward, never straight.

Cassiodorus's picture

by the "withering away of the state." The Marx-Engels utopia is a world in which, given the triumph of a class-conscious working class (the "proletariat," borrowed from the proletarii of Roman class society), the regime in which "value" ruled people's lives and everyone was subservient to the cash nexus would come to an end, and there would be a sort of cooperative of cooperatives to which everyone would belong. At that point there would be less and less of a need for the state.

You're thinking of a world in which the state exists merely to keep corporations in power. A big step toward such a world was taken in April when Congress' passing of the CARES act created a new class of individuals: recipients of direct Federal Reserve loans. So if you're rich enough, essentially, the government prints out money and gives it to you for free. (When you factor in the difference between what you pay on the loan and the interest paid out on T-bills, it's basically a gift and not a loan.)

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"Faith in philosophy means the refusal to permit fear to stunt in any way one's capacity to think." -- Max Horkheimer

@Cassiodorus .

You are sound in your Marxism. Not so much when you tell me what I'm thinking, but it is easy to see how one could misunderstand my point.

A sincere thank you for replying, but I am aware of the difference between Marxism and my fanciful cribbing of the term. The contrast between Engels and FWF was intended to show how bizarre it is that we are slipping into a corporate dystopia where corporate power supplants sovereignty.

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I cried when I wrote this song. Sue me if I play too long.

Cassiodorus's picture

@fire with fire I guess I'm reacting because I've had too interactions with strangers on the Internet who did not get irony.

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"Faith in philosophy means the refusal to permit fear to stunt in any way one's capacity to think." -- Max Horkheimer

"The original selling point of neoliberalism was that anything the State can do for you, a profit making operation can do it better. They have already "privatized" prisons and schools. The virus is speeding up the process of government discrediting itself."

Bingo!

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NYCVG

Mussolini defined Fascism as a partnership between the corporations and the State, where the State serves to further the interest of the corporations as its ultimate goal. In your scenario the Corporations eventually become powerful enough, serving every usual function of government that they don't need a government. The problem is that the ultimate goal of corporations is first survival and then profit. Corporations serving the public good is as wishful thinking as trickle down economics, or democracy in a neoliberal state.

I do think that we are moving in the direction that you analyzed. The TPP is a really good example of corporate governance superseding states on a global scale. The EU is another example where corporations can work through a multinational authority to overrule the authority of individual states in a non-democratic fashion.

I think that eventually the people revolt, as Corporatism is diametrically opposed to Democracy and therefore lacks legitimacy. It also leads to staggering income inequality, as your worth is directly equal to your value to the Corporations. And, by the way, this is exactly what is happening now.

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Capitalism has always been the rule of the people by the oligarchs. You only have two choices, eliminate them or restrict their power.

@The Wizard .

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The biggest problem for my whimsical analysis is The American War Machine. It is the State and it does not look to be withering away even now. What we have as of today is indeed hard to distinguish from fascism --and the State is very busy trying to run the world.

In this thread, I am just pointing out how the relationship between Corporations and The State within the United States has become muddled. History will probably accelerate as these multiple crises tormenting us progress. It is disconcerting to contemplate how much of our lives right now was presaged by 1970s dystopian movies like Rollerball:
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Jonathan E. is the team captain and veteran star of the Houston Rollerball team. He has become the sport's most recognizable and talented player. After another impressive performance against Madrid, Mr. Bartholomew, chairman of the Energy Corporation, whose headquarters is Houston, announces that Jonathan will be featured in a "multivision" broadcast about his career.

Bartholomew tells Jonathan that he wants him to retire. He offers the Rollerballer a lavish retirement package if Jonathan makes the announcement during the special. He then preaches the benefits of corporate-run society and the importance of respecting executive decisions, never explaining exactly why he must retire. Jonathan refuses, and requests to see his former wife Ella, who had been taken from him some time earlier by a corporate executive who wanted her for himself.

Suspicious of a forced retirement, Jonathan goes to a library and asks for books about the corporation and history. He finds that all books have been digitized and "edited" to suit the corporations, and are now stored on supercomputers at large protected corporate locations. Cletus, Houston's former coach who brought Jonathan along and helped make him a superstar, is now an Energy executive as well as Jonathan's friend. He warns him that the Executive Committee is afraid of him, though he cannot learn why people so powerful would be afraid of a Rollerballer, even the best player in the world.

/snip/

Bartholomew hosts an executive teleconference to discuss the game's future. They decide that the Houston – New York game will be played with no penalties, no substitutions, and no time limit in the hope that Jonathan, if he decides to play, will be killed during the game. The conference reveals why Jonathan must retire: Rollerball was conceived not only to satisfy man's bloodlust, but to demonstrate the futility of individualism. Jonathan's popularity and longevity as a player threaten this purpose.

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On the difference between Fascism and Corporate Anarchy, I think the gravy train of Perpetual War just ran off the rails. Borrowing can keep the drones terrorizing weddings for another few years, I suppose. But the Empire will be dissolving even faster than the Soviet Union as our economy collapses.

At that point I am not kidding when I say that I expect that State to disappear, probably faster than is implied by the word, wither.

Thanks for the perspective.

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I cried when I wrote this song. Sue me if I play too long.

@fire with fire

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J.P. Morgan Lays Odds On the Race to a COVID-19 Vaccine

The world needs a vaccine against COVID-19, and with some 200 vaccine candidates in various stages of development, and more than 30 of these vaccines already in Phase 3 clinical trials, odds are we will get a vaccine -- probably several -- sooner than you might expect.

J.P. Morgan analyst Cory Kasimov focused in on two of the leading candidates: mRNA-1273 from Moderna (MRNA), and BNT162 from BioNTech (BNTX), laying odds on which of the two has the best chance of success -- and which might win FDA approval first.

Kasimov's note, it should be pointed out, is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion of all 30 leading vaccine candidates, or even a thorough review of the two vaccines focused on. Rather, explained the analyst, he just "wanted to get a better sense of the likelihood of success in Phase 3 for two of the front runners in the vaccine race." As such, the report should perhaps be best viewed as a sort of first look at two good prospects to rank among the winners of this race.

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Simulating potential results of the Phase 3 trials, Kasimov notes first and foremost that "both trials should ultimately be successful if efficacy rates are anywhere north of 60%." (I.e. The FDA will probably approve both companies' vaccines if they are 60% or more effective at preventing infection, relative to patients receiving placebos). It appears that the FDA could approve vaccines with efficacy rates of 50% or even as low as 30% -- but 60% is preferable, and 70% or better would all but assure approval of both companies' vaccines.

So this article from Yahoo News answers my question about who will decide whether to approve a vaccine -- the FDA. But whoa! I never dreamed that the efficacy rate to approve a "product" could be as low as 30%.

I have kept quiet for the most part about vaccines but I have marvelled at the credulity of idiots imagining that all this shit will go away once we have a vaccine.

Sheesh.

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I cried when I wrote this song. Sue me if I play too long.

@fire with fire And, there is the additional problem that herd immunity is only achievable if people trust the vaccine enough to actually get it--even if it is 100% effective it won't matter if people don't trust the FDA.
Andy Slavitt is a bit of a neoliberal perhaps, but I think he is usually pretty spot on on Covid-19.
Here is his take on the FDA, vaccine and the numbers, I thought this thread was informative...

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but it really is the neolibs killing the state. Thanks for the observations.

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Orwell: Where's the omelette?

travelerxxx's picture

@jim p

Seems not so long ago (but decades) that I started seeing three flagpoles in front of major corporate facilities rather than a single one with an American flag flying. The second was the state flag, on one side of the American flagpole. The third was now some corporate flag – generally some stylized logo or some such. The state and corporate flagpoles were always a bit shorter than the one with the American flag.

Lately, here and there, I've noticed the absence of the second pole. The state flag is the one missing, its pole gone. Now, we see the corporate banner at the same height as the American flag. In some cases the American flag is also gone, leaving only the banner of the Capitalist organization. Seems to be a trend.

The phrase "tail wagging the dog" comes to mind for me, but I think that's wrong. Considering that it's big bucks that our elected representatives listen to rather than we-the-people, perhaps it's proper. It might be most fitting to haul up a different corporate banner atop the White House and Capitol Hill every day rather than the stars and stripes. Easy to do – just choose from the listed Dow corporations.

So, yeah, I agree about the "...neolibs killing the state," but even replacing the state. You can see it with their symbolism.

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