Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Neoliberal Global Economic Order

In this week's readings something in the McChesney article really, really, really bothered me. He says that the so-called neoliberal economic system works best with a formal electoral democracy but with little public input in any other way (he clearly doesn't agree with this however). According to Friedman profit-making is the essence of democracy and that democracy is permissible and any government supporting "anti-market" policies is "anti-democratic" no matter how much popular support it has.
That's funny, I thought the essence of democracy was popular support for governments and policies, not just supporting capitalism. McChesney exemplifies Friedman's position with the military overthrow of the democratically elected Chilean government in the 1970's because it was interfering with "business control" in Chilean society. According to McChesney the overthrow resulted in 15 years of military dictatorship and an eventual return to democracy, however under conditions that made it very difficult, if not impossible for the public to challenge military and business control of society. While I will admit that I know virtually nothing about this situation, other than what I read in McChesney (and saw on a recent "Law and Order" re-run on TNT), this doesn't sound like much of a democracy to me, it sounds more like the continuation of a dictatorship.
McChesney goes on to say that this neoliberal economic order thrives on a "weak political culture" and that the global media system is a beneficiary of it, most likely in that the global media system is controlled by transnational companies and therefore benefits from policies that allow it to pursue capitalism in whatever way possible. He says this leads to an apathetic and cynical public which only perpetuates the cycle. This rang so true to me. Even in this past election with Obama's messages of hope and change, how many people felt like their vote still might not matter, or that even if their candidate did get elected, it wouldn't change much anyway?
While McChesney says the global media system and its conglomerates benefit from this structure, I think that the global media system (most likely not including the conglomerates) could be a huge catalyst for changing our apathetic and cynical views. Instead of pushing the pop "journalism" of celebrity gossip and scandal, media could be used to better inform people about the issues, get them to think about what is going on in their country and the world, and form their own opinions. While there are people who are trying to do this now, it seems that you have to deliberately go out of your way to find them, instead of looking at what is easily available from the media giants, who seem more interested in their bottom line than informing the public. As the market has become so saturated with these conglomerates, who seem to control every outlet I'm not sure what the remedy could be. Would a larger public media, such as PBS, NPR, and the BBC, be more focused on media for the sake of public information instead of profit? Should we turn to a number of smaller private companies to hear a variety of views and then put together our own picture of the situation? Should we all take up our own blogs, letter writing campaigns, and other initiatives to try to get our voices heard? In a democracy it doesn't seem like it should have to be so hard for the people's will to be heard over that of big business. I wish we could find some answer, because it is very disheartening to think that world governments are more concerned with the interests of businesses and not the people, who they are (in democracies at least) supposed to represent.


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  2. I share your distress about the issues McChesney touches on-- he certainly does it with a healthy amount of acidity even a little flair. And he is, of course, not the first or the last person to point out all of this about neoliberalism/capitalism as a danger to healthy democracy, capitalism, power of TNCs, governments folding to their will, etc.

    But while I agree with McChesney and others' points about the negative effects that unregulated capitalism can have on a democracy (U.S.A. is a case in point), we have to remember that we do still live in a democracy, just a struggling one. And that's totally normal. Participatory democracy requires participation, hard work and vigilance to maintain it and improve upon it.

    Pardon me whilst I step up onto my change congress stump (www.change-congress.org, check it out!), but Lessig has a point, and a good one. A key one, even. It's not just media TNCs, but all corporations that have influence on our representatives, and that is because of the way our system is currently regulated.

    As long as there are PACs and lobbyists and elections that are not publicly funded, we will have Members of Congress and Senators voting along their biggest corporate donor's lines, and not along the lines of their constituents' needs or opinions. And the problem is not with the corps or the congressfolks, but with us, their constituents, for not recognizing the problem and doing something about it.

    If you know your rep is taking 5 and 6 figure donations from, say, health insurance companies, and voting consistently against the public option and against any health care reform at all, despite your district's opinion polls showing the opposite, you have to actually do something about it. Or perhaps your rep gets big donations from Verizon and is really not on board with net neutrality for some "inexplicable" reason. Call, write, and let he or she know your views, and while you're at it, emphasize the importance of publicly-funded elections.

    Once a rep gets into office, they start focusing on how to raise enough money to stay there. That doesn't mean he/she is corrupt or bad--it's a corrupt system. Who doesn't want job security? If elections were publicly funded, no one could (legally) put that rep in such an awkward position in the first place.

    To try to swing this back to the larger topic of international communication, governance, and big bad capitalism, I'm not wholly convinced that free markets are at odds with true democracy, but I am positive that (intellectual) laziness is...and that socialism just seems pretty freakin great, I don't care what Disney says.