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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

 
Enslaved by all that freedom

by digby

Corey Robin explains how they imprison you with all those choices:
In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives. That, in fact, is the openly declared goal: once we are made more cognizant of our money, where it comes from and where it goes, neoliberals believe we’ll be more responsible in spending and investing it. Of course, rich people have accountants, lawyers, personal assistants, and others to do this for them, so the argument doesn’t apply to them, but that’s another story for another day.

The dream is that we’d all have our gazillion individual accounts — one for retirement, one for sickness, one for unemployment, one for the kids, and so on, each connected to our employment, so that we understand that everything good in life depends upon our boss (and not the government) — and every day we’d check in to see how they’re doing, what needs attending to, what can be better invested elsewhere. It’s as if, in the neoliberal dream, we’re all retirees in Boca, with nothing better to do than to check in with our broker, except of course that we’re not. Indeed, if Republicans (and some Democrats) had their way, we’d never retire at all.
True. But in this neo-liberal dream most of us won't live to a ripe old age because we'll die early of stress-related diseases. Which is a feature, not a bug. After all, it's that extended life expectancy that's causing all the trouble.

He goes on to explain that it's not that the left thinks socialism is a path to utopia. Indeed he describes it like this: "I think the point of socialism is to convert hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness. God, that would be so great."

Wouldn't it though?

This complexity is more than just vexing, I'm afraid. I know a lot of people for whom it's simply impossible. They don't think in these "market terms" and trying to navigate all the bells and whistles the wonks think are so terrific because it gives people "choice" are painful exercises in futility. It may be that the health care websites turn out to be just simple enough (and the costs of failure so high) that people will force themselves to claw their way through the system to come out on the other side with something they fully understand and which makes sense for their current financial and health status. But I have to believe that a good many folks are going to get in there, pick the lowest prices (or use some other metric that doesn't necessarily reflect a measured analysis of their needs) and call it a day. And that's if they do it at all.

I keep coming across a peculiar phenomenon, especially among people I know who are getting older. They come into a little money, an inheritance or an insurance settlement say. And rather than being thoughtful about what to do with it, by investing in a portfolio or even a piece of property that will likely increase in value, they spend every penny of it almost immediately. I think they are so daunted by the complexity of being financially responsible that they want to get rid of the money as quickly as they can so they don't have to think about it anymore. It's not like it used to be where you could just put your money in a savings account and feel like you're saving your money. There's intense pressure to "be smart" with your money and yet the world of money is ever more arcane and impenetrable. A lot of people just say to hell with it and live in the now. As Robin says, "we’re either athletes of the market or the support staff who tend to the race."

I'm always a little bit confused by people who revere the corporate beehive and worship the markets because it's not that I can't understand how these systems work, it's that I find it so tedious and unpleasant to do it that the idea it represents "freedom" is simply ridiculous. It's the opposite. But then that's probably the point.

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